As the Wolverines clawed back from an early deficit in the first set of Sunday’s match, freshman setter Scottee Johnson tracked down and dug a speedy attack from Purdue. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, freshman outside hitter Jess Mruzik emerged from the back row and launched a kill into the face of Purdue defensive specialist Jena Otec. The Boilermakers instantly called timeout, as the Wolverines’ new freshman tandem put the league on notice. 

The new freshmen arrivals, paired with aggressive offensive play from junior Paige Jones, however, was not enough to slow Purdue. The No. 11 Boilermakers (4-4 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) built on Saturday’s win en route to a 3-1 victory over the Wolverines (0-2, 0-2). 

After Michigan erased a four-point deficit to tie the first set at 23, Purdue outside hitter Grace Cleveland took command, slamming down an emphatic kill to retake the lead. From that point, the Boilermakers rallied, securing a grueling first set, 26-24. 

Looking to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole for the second night in a row, Michigan quickly took control of the second set. As Michigan built a 10-7 lead early in the set, Purdue outside hitter Maddy Chinn rose up and slammed the ball for what seemed to be a sure kill. However, Mruzik met her at the summit, viciously rejecting the attempt for a marquee block that won the point. These types of plays from Mruzik have been key for the Wolverines in high-impact situations.

“Jess has the advantage of coming in with the experience level that very few freshmen have, playing on a national team in the world championships,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “So we’re not surprised. I don’t really think of her as a freshman.”  

Following the play, the Wolverines built on their lead with a flurry of kills from Jones, as the Boilermakers struggled to find answers for her on defense. 

“It helps when I have passers next to me who have been passing great,” Jones said. “We’ve played two games but they’re playing great so far. We’re still figuring out that connection.” 

With Michigan up 22-14, the Boilermakers began to mount a counterattack, resulting in a 7-0 run which was quieted by junior middle blocker Kayla Bair to end a 7-0 with a dominant kill. At set point, 24-21, Cleveland looked to make the Wolverines pay for relinquishing the earlier lead with a large attempt. Mruzik, known for her offensive ability, once again turned defense into offense. Her monster block on Cleveland was unreturnable, and the Wolverines won set two. 

“We los(t) the first set and that can sometimes just kill momentum,” Rosen said. “I thought our players did an outstanding job of jumping out in the second set and being really resilient and aggressive and getting a big lead on them in the second set.”

Michigan was unable to carry the momentum into the following sets, though. Cleveland got into a rhythm, and the Boilermakers notched a .500 hitting percentage to run away with the third set, 25-13. 

In the final set, creative no-look taps over the net from Purdue setter Hayley Bush confused the Wolverines’ defense. The inconsistent communication, along with yet another .500 hitting percentage on the set from the Boilermakers, was too much for Michigan — which hit just .197 for the match — to handle as they lost the final set, 25-18. 

Despite the loss, Rosen looked to keep things in perspective, as the Wolverines opened their season against a key conference foe, taking the court for the first time since last March. 

“It was good to get back to some normalcy.” Rosen said. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but to finally get going yesterday and have two matches this weekend was awesome.”

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