Junior Lyndsay Miller is not an e-mail person.
But no one told that to Michigan coach Mark Rosen when he recruited her two years ago.
“(The coaches) would get nervous at first because I wouldn’t e-mail back right away,” Miller said. “But then Lisa (Rosen’s wife and assistant coach) figured out, ‘She doesn’t like the e-mail, so it’s OK, it’s not a big deal.’ “
Still, Miller hesitated slightly when Rosen finally offered her a scholarship to play for the Wolverines. And even though she eventually signed, the entire experience put the coach – not typically a symbol of anxiety, even during a match – on edge.
“She made us sweat a little bit, which I respect,” Rosen said.
Miller was just one of four recruits leading up to the 2004 season, bringing Rosen the most talented recruiting class Michigan had seen to that point. Along with Miller, the Wolverines welcomed Sarah Draves, Stesha Selsky and Katie Bruzdzinski. Together, the class was considered one of the best in the nation.
They were highly regarded, but the freshmen still felt like freshmen. And whether you’re a walk-on or your state’s high school player of the year, life isn’t easy when you have to adjust from being the best player on the court to being just one of many good players.
“When you come into college, it’s a different game,” Bruzdzinski said. “It’s a lot faster, and one of the biggest things is that people just come at you harder. With serving, they hit a lot harder, and you have to get used to it fast. So I think my freshman year that was the big thing, getting used to the level of play.”
Now juniors, the group held their own in their first full collegiate season and provided a glimpse into a promising future for the volleyball program.
“Katie started as a freshman, Stesha started as a freshman, Lyndsay started as a freshman, so you have three of them starting as freshmen and that’s always good to have three freshmen starting in one year,” Rosen said. “And we had a pretty good year, going to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. I wouldn’t say they exceeded expectations, but we were certainly pleased with that initial year with them.”
But last season didn’t go as well for the Wolverines. The team finished the year 13-16, dropped its final four games and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Statistically, the group improved from the year before, but it was a far cry from its collegiate debut.
This year, the four juniors – upperclassman for the first time – are confident this will be the season they can push Michigan volleyball beyond a middle-of-the pack finish in the Big Ten.
“I think we have a lot of experience, and we’ve played with a lot of great players,” Miller said. “So I think that we have the tools to push Michigan to better places – to get it to where we all want to be. We have the ability to get that done.”
In addition to improving on the court since their inaugural season, several of the players believe their maturation off the court will also help the team.
“Your emotions and personality are a little bit more reserved (freshman year),” Selsky said. “But this year it’s almost like we’re veterans, and we know how it feels, and we know how everything works. I feel like I’m less shy, and I feel that when you’re a junior you’re definitely less shy, and you’re definitely more comfortable playing.”
Draves also grew from being a reserved first-year player to being a gregarious veteran. The Ypsilanti native said her newfound passion for the things she loves (people and God) has allowed her to be more outgoing, which helped foster a more welcoming atmosphere for the incoming freshman and eliminated class divisions.
“This team and the upperclassmen have done a great job of taking the freshmen,” freshman Megan Bower said. “We do not actually feel like freshmen (because) they made us feel like we’re supposed to be here. They never made me or the other freshmen feel like we had to sit back and watch.”
The four juniors know what it was like to be freshman and now laugh to themselves about what it was like when they first came to Ann Arbor. Selsky described her experience as “awkward” meeting everyone for the first time. But they all agree that they were welcomed by their teammates and will make sure to do the same for this season’s rookies.
Much has changed in the two short years since the class of 2008 first donned the block ‘M.’ Each player has gone from supporting the team in the shadows to stepping into the forefront.
“I feel you have to work extremely hard to represent the ‘M’ that you wear,” said Selsky her freshman season. “You work hard, and you will strive to make sure that Michigan gets recognized as a great academic and athletic school.”
“We’ve figured it out,” Selsky says, two years wiser. “We just have to go execute it.”