BY JAKE LOURIM
Daily Sports Writer
Published September 20, 2013
This time next year, Maryland will be playing volleyball in the Big Ten, along with Michigan and the seven other Big Ten teams ranked in this week’s Top 25.
If Friday night was any indication, the Terrapins will be in for a rude awakening.
No. 10 Michigan (9-1) shook off Maryland, 25-17, 25-19, 25-17, to set up a winner-take-all matchup with Ohio Saturday in the final game of the Michigan Invitational.
The Wolverines trailed only twice the entire night — 1-0 in the first set and 6-5 in the second. Michigan’s .429 hitting percentage was a season high. The Wolverines also received a career-high hitting percentage from senior middle blocker Jennifer Cross, who hit .722 with 13 kills and no errors.
“This morning, we were a little bit high-error, so as a team we talked about making smarter choices,” Cross said. “Instead of hitting it to the (middle) of the block, hit it to the perimeter of the block, which I think we did a really good job of.”
The key Friday was a balanced hitting attack. Michigan got at least eight kills from three different players—Cross (13), senior outside hitter Lexi Erwin (eight) and senior outside hitter Molly Toon (eight).
“(Junior setter) Lexi (Dannemiller) could set anybody and know that one, they wanted the ball, and two, they were going to do something really well with it,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “That balance really makes it hard to defend, because you don’t know where the ball is going to come from.”
Rosen said Michigan has struggled with balancing the attack among hitters lately, so he made it a point of emphasis Friday night.
The Wolverines hit .480 in the first set and .483 in the second, compared to .129 and .258 for Maryland (8-3). After Michigan committed 19 errors in the win over Marshall Friday morning, the Wolverines cut that total down to five in the nightcap.
“We just weren’t able to produce in a balanced way, and I thought we got back to it tonight,” Rosen said. “When we’re balanced, we can play with anybody, and that’s what we’re striving for.”
In the second game, Michigan had its lead threatened late at 19-17, but used a Maryland hitting error and Cross’s kill to secure the lead.
The Wolverines went to the locker room with a comfortable two-set lead and wasted no time taking control in the third set. They won five of the first six points, the last on a Maryland ball-handling error, forcing the Terrapins to call a timeout.
In the third game, Michigan brought Maryland’s hitting percentage back below .200, led by sophomore libero Tiffany Morales and a strong front line that had 11 blocks, six in the third game.
“Our block was set up really well, and they were reading the setter very well,” Morales said. “From there, we got a lot of touches, which gave us a good amount of digs and made us go fast on offense.”
The Wolverines’ streak early in the third set helped lock up the match. Maryland wouldn’t go away, but Erwin and Toon each added a block and a kill later to build the lead to 20-11, the largest deficit of the match.
“I think as a team we’re better collectively if we’re all on our game,” Cross said. “We can always count on someone to be hot (any) night. Someone’s struggling, we already have hitters ready to go. It makes it easier — if one team tries to pick on a certain attack, we’re ready to go at another place.”
The Wolverines put in reserves to close out the match, and when they did, they started looking to Saturday night’s game against Ohio. Both teams beat Maryland and Marshall Friday, so the winner Saturday will take home the tournament championship.
The Bobcats should provide a stiffer test with their fast-paced offense, but Rosen is in no hurry to skip to playing hard-fought battles.
“I’d be lying if I said I did,” Rosen said. “(We) want our team to play well and be able to dominate. But at the same time, when we do get pushed, it’s good for us.”