Last Friday, in an away match against Nebraska, the Michigan volleyball team proved it was possible to earn more kills than your opponent and still lose the game.
The Wolverines (4-9 Big Ten, 16-9 overall) racked up 18 more kills than their large, farm-fed opponents, but lost to the Cornhuskers in four sets. Michigan’s 38 attack errors and a huge blocking disparity cancelled out the Wolverines’ formidable ability to put the ball on the hardwood. The Wolverines fell to Nebraska 3-1 on Friday before recovering in a 3-2 win over Iowa on Saturday.
In their four previous matches, the Cornhuskers were averaging 8.5 blocks per game. They had 18 this past weekend — three times as many as the Wolverines. Perhaps the improvement was the manifestation of Nebraska’s collective frustrations after being upset by Penn State a week ago. Perhaps it was the outcome of great scouting, or perhaps it was all blind luck. Regardless, it became the deciding factor of the game.
“We were making a lot of attacking errors because our passing wasn’t that great,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “And when a pass isn’t that great, then the setter may only have one option, and they did a good job of reading that one option and throwing a big block in front of us to force errors.”
In spite of Nebraska’s aggressive blocking, senior outside hitter Alex Hunt managed to earn herself a double-double with 22 kills, 15 digs, and just 4 attack errors.
“We essentially shot ourselves in the foot,” Hunt said. “We worked really hard to get all those kills but we made too many errors in the process of it and lost the game as a result.”
For Hunt, the game against the Cornhuskers marked a return to the figures she was putting up last year. This notion was reaffirmed with a repeat high scoring performance against Iowa Saturday night in Iowa City. This time, Hunt’s double-double of 23 kills and 11 digs led the Wolverines to a five-set win over the Hawkeyes.
Hunt’s return to prominence marks that she fully healed from the shoulder injury she sustained earlier this year.
“The connection between (freshman setter) Lexi Dannemiller and I took a huge step this weekend,” Hunt said. “I’m feeling great and I’m not planning on backing down for the rest of the season.”
Because Michigan has been struggling, Rosen has experimented with his lineups over these last few weeks, taking momentum from the bench wherever he can get it. This week he called upon sophomore defensive specialist Ally Sabol, who put up a career-high 25 digs against Iowa.
Much like senior defensive specialist Michelle McMahon did last weekend, Sabol brought more than simply a solid performance — she brought a supportive spark to keep the Wolverines alive through the darkest parts of the match.
“I think Sabol was huge this weekend, but especially last night,” Rosen said. “We were struggling to get anything going, and then she came out and got those digs at the perfect time. I thought it changed the complexion of our match. I just give her a ton of credit.”
Added Hunt: “She did a great job stepping in, and honestly her defense propelled us and gave us the momentum to win.”