At the halfway point of the Big Ten volleyball season, and with Michigan just two games out of first place, coach Mark Rosen was reluctant to single out one player as the team’s most valuable.
“I don’t pick MVPs on my team,” Rosen said. “The stats in some ways speak for themselves.”
Looking at the statistics, Rosen would find it difficult to single out any one player as this year’s candidate.
Senior Erin Moore leads the team in kills per game (4.26), freshman Megan Bowman leads in blocks per game (1.37) and sophomore Erin Cobler leads in service aces per game (0.23). Junior Jennifer Gandolph leads in digs per game (3.19) and senior Nicole Poquette has the highest attack percentage (.304) among starters.
With so many floor leaders, it’s no surprise that the Wolverines (6-4 Big Ten, 14-7 overall) continue to show resiliency in Big Ten play despite nagging injuries and down-to-the-wire losses.
This past weekend, with two of Michigan’s starters sidelined with injuries, the Wolverines played with flashes of greatness in their 3-1 loss to Big Ten leader No. 25 Minnesota (8-2 Big Ten, 15-7 overall) and with complete dominance in their 3-0 sweep of Big Ten doormat Iowa (0-10, 5-15).
“We played two totally different teams this weekend,” Rosen said. “Minnesota is atop the conference for a reason, and Iowa is a team that’s struggling.”
Friday night’s match against Minnesota was more of a mental test for the Wolverines. Neither team appeared to have a physical advantage, but Minnesota did have the support of over 3,000 fans that packed the Sports Pavilion for its largest crowd of the year.
In game one, Michigan rallied several times – even taking a 26-25 lead – only to see the Gophers capitalize on a crucial touch foul which began a string of five consecutive points en route to 1-0 match lead.
Michigan evened the match 1-1 behind Megan Bowman’s four kills and solid team defense. The tempo of game three mirrored game one. Michigan came back from marginal deficits but came up short, losing 30-26.
Down 2-1 in the match and 18-6 in the fourth game, Rosen noticed that his team began to play with the poise and consistency that they have not shown on many occasions this season.
Led by the blocking of Moore and Lisa Gamalski, Michigan was able to battle back and tie the match at 29.
“I’m just really proud of our girls for not giving up,” Rosen said. “It’s hard when you get to that point to not just get frustrated. And the girls did a great job of that.”
Michigan was unable to close out game four against Minnesota, but its intensity carried over to Saturday night’s match against Iowa – a remarkably different match all-together.
While Minnesota’s home fans energized their Gophers to victory, Iowa’s crowd atmosphere would even disappoint Montreal Expos fans.
“At Iowa you have a 16,000 seat arena with 200 people,” Rosen said. “Our practices have more intensity a lot of time than in that gym.”
Despite the inability to find its rhythm early, Michigan won 44 of the match’s final 57 points, including a 30-9 score in the final game to sweep the Hawkeyes 3-0.
“We were playing very, very smooth,” said Rosen about the final game. “It was definitely impressive how our girls handled that situation. As a coach, you love seeing that.”