For the No. 22 Michigan women’s volleyball team, the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship was a tale of two games — one in which the Wolverines were dominant and one in which they got dominated. In the last two games of the season, Michigan swept and got swept by two teams in Kentucky to to end its 2019 campaign.
Michigan (21-11) made its 13th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last 14 years and its 19th tournament appearance overall — 18 of them with Michigan coach Mark Rosen. The Wolverines were placed in the region hosted by No. 9 Kentucky, a tough matchup if it came to be. Michigan traveled to Lexington, Ken. to first compete against Northern Kentucky (19-13) in the first round. The Wolverines handled business, finishing off the Norse in a clean, three-set sweep.
“It’s good to advance, it’s good to move forward,” Rosen said. “I thought Northern Kentucky played really well … Proud of our players for taking care of that and moving on. Excited about it.”
Michigan started out the match struggling in the first set, hitting just .167. Unfortunately for Northern Kentucky, though, the Norse hit even worse and were unable to take advantage of the Wolverines’ early struggles — losing the set, 25-22. Michigan bounced back, improving its hitting percentage to .370 in the second set and .342 in the third set, winning both, 25-15 and 25-22, respectively.
Freshman middle blocker Jess Robinson and senior middle blocker Cori Crocker led the attack with a .500 hitting mark, each having at least eight kills.
“Both her (Crocker) and Jess, I thought did a great job,” Rosen said. “Both middles hit .500. They were two and three in kills for us … I thought that that was great that we had that option to go to when our outsides were struggling, and it was great that we passed the ball well enough to get them the ball.”
When asked about her success, Crocker credited her teammates for her success — something she has done all season.
“I’m not here without her (senior setter MacKenzi Welsh) being here for sure,” Crocker said. “I think she definitely got me in positions to put the ball away.”
Welsh, a key contributor for the Wolverines all season, led the team with 36 assists. Setters serve as the core of any volleyball team and Rosen believes it helps that Michigan had a senior with experience at that position.
“The nice thing is our seniors have been in the NCAA Tournament four years in a row,” Rosen said. “It’s awesome to have a senior who’s played in an NCAA experience to be the one who steps in.”
The Wolverines had a tough turnaround after their first round game on Friday as they faced No. 9 Kentucky (25-6) the next day. Heading into the matchup, the Wildcats’ success could be largely attributed to their outside hitter and SEC Player of the Year, Leah Edmond, and SEC Libero of the Year, Gabby Curry. Kentucky proved too much for the Wolverines, winning in three sets and ending Michigan’s season.
“They run a good tempo, it’s fast,” Rosen said. “We had a pretty good idea of what they were doing, we just didn’t do a very good job of stopping it … There were times we played well, but there were times where we were very inconsistent with out offense … It’s not a good combination. They certainly outplayed us today.”
Michigan failed to hit over .200 and averaged .146 for all three sets. Kentucky, on the other hand, hit the ball at the .323 mark — including a .438 hitting percentage in the second set. Edmond and outside hitter Alli Stumler led the charge offensively for the Wildcats, with 15 and 11 kills respectively. Curry also made her impact felt with a match-high 19 digs.
Sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones led both teams with a match-high of 16 kills and Crocker led all players with a game-high of .500 hitting percentage, but those performances weren’t enough to overcome the juggernaut Wildcats.
It wasn’t the way Michigan wanted to end its season and send its seniors off, but it was the goodbye that they got.
“This team’s worked really, really hard to become the best version of themselves they can be,” Rosen said. “So, I’m really proud of how hard this team worked and how committed they were to our process and really developing as a team … I really am super proud of this team and very appreciative of what they’ve done for our program and Michigan athletics.”