With a vicious spike from sophomore outside hitter Lexi Erwin, the No. 18 Michigan volleyball team closed the door on a three-set victory over Texas A&M, on a championship in the Michigan/Adidas Invitational and on the non-conference portion of its schedule.
The Aggies, who entered the weekend undefeated, were one of three teams the Wolverines steamrolled in Cliff Keen Arena this weekend to start 12-0 heading into Big Ten play.
Saturday night’s victory marked a departure from the round-robin tournaments and long waits between games to a more consistent Friday and Saturday night schedule.
The Wolverines played in four states on four different weekends in their non-conference schedule, but the result stayed the same — an occasional challenge amidst sheer dominance. In Kentucky, Utah, Ohio and Michigan, they won 36 of 42 sets and scored tournament titles in each state.
“It’s going to be a little different, but we’ve been playing in gyms where the fans are really hostile,” Erwin said. “I think it’s a lot stronger preseason than what we had last year. It’s prepared us a lot for those tough games which you just have to grind out.”
Though Big Ten teams will be a cut above what the Wolverines have seen in the last month, Michigan coach Mark Rosen sees the non-conference slate as good preparation for the challenges of conference play.
“Teams like Texas A&M, Dayton, Florida State and Pepperdine are pretty physical teams,” he said. “I think they would be teams that match up in the Big Ten and be competitive. They’re not going to compete to win the Big Ten, but they’re certainly going to be able to compete in physicality. But I think our team is ready to step into that arena, and I think we’re sure we can compete with anybody in the Big Ten.”
Though Michigan will face heightened competition, it will have to prepare for just two teams per week instead of three. And instead of playing back-to-back games, the Wolverines get 24 hours to regroup and prepare themselves for the next match.
But for Michigan to be at top form for next week’s trip to the Hoosier State with games against Indiana and Purdue, it will have to recover from the past month.
“Part of it is getting healthy,” Rosen said. “We need to work in a little bit of rest into our plans. We’ll go a little bit shorter this week, but we’ll go hard and fast. We’re pretty beat up after the last few weeks.
“We’ve only had two middles in practice the last week and a half, so those two middles are taking all of the reps. Normally we have four middles in practice, and those kids can alternate reps and not get that tired.”
Though the unbeaten start has Michigan riding high, Rosen doesn’t see it adding pressure to the team.
“Nobody’s walking around the locker room worried about where we’re ranked or where we are,” he said. “This weekend, I sensed that we had a little more pressure internally because of being home. They want to play well here. It’s all their friends, people they know really well and as an athlete, you want to be able to show your best.”
Added senior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher: “I don’t see it as ‘Oh, we’re undefeated, now we’ve got more pressure.’ We know we have a target on our back, but we always have a target on our back, because we’re Michigan. We’ve got momentum and it’s a good feeling.”