This weekend, the Michigan volleyball team will look to do something no other volleyball team in Michigan’s history has done – get past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
To do that, the Wolverines will travel to Manhattan, Kan. to face No. 22 Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament tomorrow night. If victorious, Michigan will face either Washington State or Oral Roberts in the next round.
“It will make my senior year if we make it past the second round,” middle blocker Katrina Lehman said.
But the road for Michigan will not be easy. Kansas State is one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won 14 of their last 16 games, en route to a 20-8 regular season finish. Michigan was swept last year in the only previous meeting between the two schools.
The Wildcats also bring a very balanced attack to the table, led by All-Big 12 Conference selections Lauren Goehring, Gabby Guerre and Cari Jensen. But despite their strong attack, Kansas State has just a 12-28-1 overall record against the Big Ten, and has gone a meager 4-8 against tournament bound teams this year.
In addition, Michigan has its own trio to counter Kansas State – All-Big Ten selection Erin Moore, setter Lisa Gamalski and outside hitter Jennifer Gandolph. With those three leading the way, Michigan coach Mark Rosen likes his team’s chances.
“I like our draw,” Rosen said. “Kansas State is a team that is very good, but I know their personnel very well, and we match up well with them.”
Despite making the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid, the Wolverines are confident that they will be able to make some noise. Michigan comes in with a 16-14 overall record, having played one of the toughest schedules in the country in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation. This should only help the Wolverines in tournament play.
“There’s not a weekend in the Big Ten where you can just kind of slack off,” Gandolph said. “It’s not going to be any surprise to come out and play a tough team, because that’s what we do every day anyway.”
The Wolverines have made it to the tournament three times, and all three times Michigan has walked away after losing in the second round. The last time Michigan was in the NCAA Tournament was in 2000, when it beat Conference USA champion Louisville but got swept by No. 2 Arizona.
With a 3-3 record in past NCAA Tournament play, Michigan has been nothing if not consistent. But with the way the Wolverines have been able to overcome obstacles in the last month of the season, things may change this year.
“Anything can happen in the tournament,” Gandolph said.