At Cliff Keen Arena on a disappointing Saturday night, No. 5 Penn State (16-2 Big Ten, 26-2 overall) ensured the Wolverines a losing Big Ten record for the third consecutive season.
The Wolverines matched the stellar play of the Nittany Lions the first two games of their home-season finale, with close losses at 30-27 and 34-32, but couldn’t keep up in the third game, as the Lions walked away with a dominating 30-14 victory.
“I’m really proud of how our team came out and played tonight,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “In the first two games we stuck with our game plan. . we got frustrated in game three and got away from our plan, but I loved the way we looked in games one and two.”
For much of game one, the score was tied. It opened with a 5-5 tie before two straight aces from senior captain Erin Penn gave the Wolverines an 8-5 advantage. The Lions quickly tied the game at 8-8 before the teams traded points.
A solid effort all around by the Wolverines pushed it to a 26-26 tie, and it looked as though they might notch a victory, thanks in part to solid defense from junior captain Katie Bruzdzinski. Penn State responded with a block and a kill to take a 28-26 lead, and the Wolverines were unable to mount a counterattack.
In game two, the Wolverines came out flat and allowed the visitors to mount a seven-point edge, thanks to exceptional play by Penn State’s Nicole Fawcett. Fawcett stung the Wolverines all night, responding when it looked as though the home team might steal a game from the best team in the Big Ten. Although the Wolverines picked up the pace and slowly chipped away at the lead, they couldn’t hold on to a 26-23 lead. In the fashion of the rest of the weekend, things didn’t go the Wolverines’ way, and Penn State breathed a sigh of relief with a two-point victory.
Like the crowd, it appeared as though the wind had gone out of the Wolverines’ sails in game three. The home team never led, or even tied the score, and allowed the visitors to build a 14-point advantage. The visitors served up 10 aces and had a staggering .434 hitting percentage.
Despite losing the last two home matches of the season, one Wolverine entered Michigan’s record books this weekend. Junior setter Stesha Selsky recorded eight digs against Penn State to take over as Michigan’s all-time leader in digs with 1,382.
Bruzdzinski had another outstanding weekend, notching an additional 15 kills against Ohio State and 18 kills against Big Ten powerhouse Penn State. The junior captain was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Nov. 6 and Nov. 13, the first conference player to win back-to-back awards in more than a year.
“She is a great player and she handles the pressure of being our go-to hitter well,” freshman libero Megan Bower said through the athletic department. “Tonight she took on too big of a load, and the other teams are starting to catch on. We need to take advantage of other teams keying on her and give her some help on offense.”
After stringing together three big wins against No. 12 Minnesota, No. 16 Purdue and Indiana in a little more than a week, the Wolverines failed in their bid for an even Big Ten record.
Michigan started falling toward a losing Big Ten record Friday night at home, as No. 19 Ohio State (11-7 Big Ten, 21-7 overall) defeated the Wolverines in three games (30-25, 30-22, 30-24).
“We built some momentum at the end of this season and we’re looking to make the postseason,” Bower said through the athletic department. “A great postseason run is a definite goal for this team, but we’re still taking it one match at a time.”
The Wolverines didn’t make the postseason last year, but with their third 20-win season in four years, a postseason birth seems inevitable. The NCAA Division I selections will be aired on ESPNews on Nov. 26.
The Wolverines (7-11 Big Ten, 20-11 overall) travel to Michigan State on Wednesday, before closing out the regular season at Iowa on Saturday.
“We need to prepare for Michigan State,” Rosen said. “It’s the most important match we have. The next match is always the most important. Monday and Tuesday our primary focus will be to prepare to beat MSU, and then we’ll turn around and do the same for Saturday’s match against Iowa.”
The Wolverines look to even their season record against the Spartans, who took a 3-0 victory on Oct. 11 at Cliff Keen.