A trip to the NCAA Tournament is nothing new for the Michigan volleyball team.
The 16th-ranked Wolverines have earned a spot in the tournament the last four seasons, but each time, the journey hasn’t gone past the Sweet 16.
That could all change with this year’s veteran-laden roster. And with the strength of the Wolverines’ regular season schedule — it ranks 9th in RPI — they aren’t just satisfied with making it to the tournament anymore.
“I feel like it’s a different program now and the expectations have changed,” junior setter Lexi Zimmerman said. “I don’t know if it’s because I am older or it’s just a different program. … It’s exciting that we’re in the tournament and we don’t want to take anything for granted. But our goals are definitely higher than just getting into the tournament.”
The idea that this could be Michigan’s year to finally advance to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for the first time in program history is not far-fetched.
In Michigan’s first match of the season, on Aug. 28, the Wolverines (24-9) swept then-No. 3 Nebraska in Omaha. The Cornhuskers were just a few months removed from a trip to the Final Four.
The Wolverines also took powerhouse Penn State to five sets inside Cliff Keen Arena. It was the first and only time the Lady Lions have been pushed to the brink by any team all season.
These big games have prepared the Wolverines for the postseason, and according to coach Mark Rosen, nerves won’t be a factor tomorrow night when Michigan takes on Niagara (23-8) in the first round.
“They’re a very aggressive team,” Rosen said of the Purple Eagles, who will make their first Tournament appearance in school history. “They’re going to come in here and play their tails off. They’re not going to be afraid of us being seeded or from the Big Ten or us being bigger.
“From watching them on tape, that’s not their makeup. They’re a feisty, competitive team and as a team, we need to respect that.”
With Rosen’s attitude and the team’s “best practice in four years” on Wednesday, according to Zimmerman, the Wolverines are finally poised to advance deeper in the NCAA Tournament.
“I don’t think you realize that if each person ratchets it up a little bit and plays their absolute best volleyball — right now — the whole level in the gym is just insane,” Zimmerman said.