Elite setters named Lexi are nothing new to the Michigan volleyball team. But for the first time in five years, it’s not Lexi Zimmerman dishing out the assists.
West Chester, Ohio product Lexi Dannemiller is quickly asserting herself as the Wolverines’ next floor leader, putting up double-doubles and 40-assist games to help the Wolverines jump out to a 6-0 start.
“She’s very skilled and she’s very athletic,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “But the pace is so much faster and is so much more complex than what it is at the high school or club level, so she’s figuring that out.”
Though it’s taking some time for the freshman Dannemiller to adjust to the pace of college play, it hasn’t stopped her from performing well in the first two weeks of competition. In her first collegiate match, she served up 20 assists en route to a straight-sets win over Marshall. And since then, things have only gotten better.
Last weekend in the Utah Valley Invitational, Dannemiller recorded at least 40 assists in all of the matches and tallied a career-high 51 in Saturday’s victory over Santa Clara. A day earlier, she notched the first double-double of her career with 40 assists and 10 digs. The result of her performance? Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
“I was excited,” Dannemiller said of the honor. “But at the same time I know that that’s not going to be my peak. I still have to get better and I still have to lead this team better.”
Dannemiller said that aside from the heightened speed of the game, the biggest adjustments she has had to make are the higher expectations the coaches hold for her as well as the increased intensity of the practices.
While it’s usually the setters leading and directing their other teammates, the role is reversed this year with a freshman holding the position because it’s the other positions helping her out.
“We knew Lexi (Zimmerman) was going to graduate and that we were going to have a freshman setter,” redshirt junior right side Claire McElheny said. “And (junior setter) Catherine Yager is coming back so it’s good to have some experience so Lexi Dannemiller has someone to show her the ropes.
“She’s a very fast player so it’s only taken a couple of weeks, but she’s learning as she goes and there are a lot of veteran hitters that are trying to make her job as easy as possible.”
This has included everything from taking Dannemiller to the grocery store, walking her to her classes, answering all of her questions and providing support on the court.
As for the comparisons to Zimmerman? Lexi Dannemiller doesn’t see it.
“We’re two different people,” she said. “But being a freshman in this spot, there’s a lot of pressure. But I think I’m handling it OK. I expected it to be worse, but everyone has been really supportive and it hasn’t been that bad of a transition.”
As Michigan starts to end its early season road trips and gears up for more substantial competition, her responsibilities will grow along with the expectations. But if her coach’s words are any indication, those obstacles won’t prove to be too big for her.
“She’s getting a lot better defensively,” Rosen said. “She’s catching up to the speed of the game. She’s got a lot better in transition. We’re still very new to her so we’re still learning about her and her development, but she picks up things very quickly and processes information rapidly.”
In the first few weeks of play, Rosen has used simple offensive sets that have helped Dannemiller transition into college volleyball. However, as he continues to add wrinkles to the offense, she will have to adjust.
But if she handles these challenges like she’s dealt with the others so far this year, Michigan could be looking at a its setter — and Lexi — of the future.