By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 10, 2012
Ahead three points late in the second set of Saturday’s match, junior outside hitter Molly Toon may have found herself in an uncomfortable position on the sideline. Sandwiched between a pair of freshman— setter Carly Warner and middle blocker Kristalyn Goode — Toon realized that she was in the middle of a dance party.
It was broken up moments later when Michigan coach Mark Rosen called for the junior to sub into the game.
But the party didn’t stop. And why should it?
Unfazed by the distraction, Toon capped the Wolverines’ second set with a kill that resonated through Cliff Keen Arena. The bench erupted, the crowd erupted and with the fight song blaring, Michigan found itself one set away from knocking off No. 10 Minnesota and winning its fifth straight game.
The Wolverines have found their groove — with or without the music.
A three-set, 25-23, 25-19, 25-13, victory over the Golden Gophers featured the Wolverines at their finest, using a balanced attack and resilient defense.
But it isn’t the physical attributes of the team responsible for turning around a season destined to end in an unpromising way. It’s the relaxed attitude, the dancing during sets, and the ability to rebound after poor play that’s working — and it’s reason to celebrate.
“I think a big turn around for us was our mindset about taking in games,” said sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller. “We’ve been just trying to have fun and not take it so seriously all the time — just playing loose, so we don’t freak out as much.”
Cruising through the toughest conference in Division 1 volleyball, Michigan’s relaxed attitude is carrying them toward an NCAA tournament berth. Following a season filled with ups and downs, the Wolverines struggled to find their way to the post season, but expectations have changed since then.
The current attitude is providing Michigan hope for a chance to dance longer in December.
“We’d make a bad play and they would just roll the ball back and be ready for the next play,” Rosen said. “They’re doing as well as I can ever remember any team doing. They are making their own mark on the program and creating their own legacy — which is something I know they want to do.”
In the midst of a 10-2 run to open up the third set, you could feel the attitude. Freshamn libero Tiffany Morales, who appeared to have injured her shoulder the night before, ran off leaping for a high five before heading to her teammates.
The party continued. It started long before the five-game winning streak, though.
A three-set loss in Purdue, one in which the Wolverines came out flat from the beginning, still featured a Michigan bench laughing and smiling as if they were going out for ice cream afterward.
“They have really allowed themselves to mature and grow through the season,” Rosen said. “They haven’t gotten frustrated. As soon as you start getting down on yourself that growth really gets stunted. They haven’t done that at all.”
The irony is that the celebrating isn’t a problem, so much as it is a solution.
Smiles lit the faces of freshmen through seniors in a celebration that wasn’t exclusive to a class. With the game secured, Wolverines stormed the court, their lone senior and celebrated in their huddle.
“With the girls this year, you crack a joke with them and they’re back,” said fifth-year right-side hitter Claire McElheny. “This last little streak, everybody has been making a real effort to stay connected. When we have that kind of chemistry on the floor we can beat anybody.”
In the waning moments of the game, Rosen too found himself smiling. After all, he enjoys winning just as much as anyone.