Losing at home in straight sets is never easy to accept, but losing on your home court in straight sets to your biggest rival is even harder.
That’s just what the Michigan women’s volleyball team (4-5 Big Ten, 16-7 overall) dealt with Wednesday night in the annual Pink game dedicated to breast cancer awareness. The Wolverines were never able to establish a groove offensively and saw each set slip away around the 10-point mark, falling to Michigan State 25-20, 25-17, 25-20.
“Typically in games you’re going to get out of rhythm, you’re going to get out of your system, and you have to make sure that you take those plays and make them better,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “I thought tonight we didn’t better the situation very much.”
The Wolverines were understandably upset with their performance, committing 21 errors and allowing the Spartans (4-5, 16-5) to hit .312 from the floor — well above their .214 average in Big Ten play coming into Wednesday’s match.
“(Michigan State) was controlling the tempo, and part of it was that we weren’t getting any digs,” said sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller. “But at the same time, I have to control the tempo on my side and they just took me out of that (rhythm). They took the whole team out of it.”
Expectations were high in front of an energized crowd of more than 1,400 people at Cliff Keen Arena after Michigan downed then-No. 22 Illinois last Wednesday and Northwestern over the weekend in straight sets. But Rosen suggested that his youthful squad may have been too caught up in the moment and failed to focus on fundamentals.
“We’re a young team and we need to learn how to handle those things, and tonight we didn’t handle it very well,” Rosen said. “(Playing Michigan State) means a lot to them and sometimes you put a little too much pressure on yourself and you get a little frustrated. I thought (the Spartans) frustrated us and as soon as (that happens), things get bad.”
Things went from bad to worse for the Wolverines. Each time Michigan looked poised to make a comeback, Michigan State found an answer. Led by two-time All-American outside hitter Lauren Wicinski, the Spartans made sure that any Wolverine rallies were short-lived.
“Even when we got them in trouble we didn’t capitalize as well as we could have,” Rosen said.
With No. 1 Penn State coming to Ann Arbor on Saturday, Rosen and the rest of the Michigan coaching staff will need to regroup their players to make sure they stay focused on doing their respective jobs. Against a team like the Nittany Lions, there will be little margin for error.
“We don’t have time for frustration,” said redshirt senior right-side hitter Claire McElheny. “If we’re trying to beat that and the other team, it’s just not going to work.”
With preparation at the forefront of the Wolverines’ priorities over the next three days, the key will be making sure that everyone is honed in, regardless of how the match unfolds.
“A lot of the little goofy plays that dropped against us, it’s not a lack of effort or our team not wanting to do it — it’s a matter of them being frustrated about the wrong things,” Rosen said. “We need to make sure that we learn from these situations and move forward.”