In a three-set sweep of Illinois on Wednesday, it was three upperclassmen who stole the show for the Michigan women’s volleyball team at Cliff Keen Arena.

Senior Claire McElheny and juniors Jennifer Cross and Lexi Erwin were highlighted in the Wolverines’ best offensive showing of the season. Coming off three connective losses to Big Ten opponents, the trio combined for 37 of Michigan’s 45 kills in the victory over No. 22 Illinois.

Having given No. 1 Penn State a run for its money this past Saturday, the Fighting Illini posed a big challenge to the unranked Wolverines. In the first set, a combination of solid passing and quick defense by freshman libero Tiffany Morales and junior defensive specialist Ally Sabol prevented Illinois from setting up its tough offense against the Wolverines. But it was Michigan’s sparkling offense that solidified the victory.

“We had a few tricks up our sleeves coming into tonight’s game,” McElheny said.

These tricks included a new offensive system featuring Michigan’s three upperclassmen in every rotation. In short, the system is set up so that sophomore setter Lexi Dannamiller always has three front-row hitters to set to. While it puts each hitter in an unfamiliar position at times, the offense is designed to keep the opposing blockers on their toes. Double-digit kills from Cross, Erwin, and McElheny prove that it did just that.

“When you play in a new position, you play free and you just get to swing,” Cross said. “There were a couple balls out there where I just swung. It felt good tonight.”

The middle blocker paired her team-leading 14 kills with seven digs in a performance she’d been working for all season. Cross, who is second in the Big Ten in blocks per set, also added two personal blocks and assisted on five of Michigan’s 14 blocks.

“Jen isn’t just this player that knows her position, she understands the game really well,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Her volleyball IQ is pretty high, so she can play in this diverse position.”

When at times the Illinois blockers were able to stuff big swings from Cross and Erwin, McElheny was able to step up with 12 kills and two blocking assists. This constant switching kept the Illinois defense from figuring out the Wolverine attack.

“It’s really fun for me,” Cross said. “It’s something I’ve never really done before, but I love it. It’s worked so far. We had a few miscommunications, just because it’s new, but we’ll work on it.”

The Wolverines will have the chance to work on their new offense this Saturday when they square off against Northwestern at home.

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