There was a buzz in the air on Saturday night as fans filed into Cliff Keen Arena: the beats of pop hits new and old reverberated off the arena walls, children ran back and forth around the court collecting stray volleyballs ,and the Michigan women’s volleyball team was relaxed, smiling and dancing during pre-game warm-ups.

The team just needed one more win to secure its second straight Pepsi/Nike Invitational championship in as many years but it wouldn’t be easy. After back-to-back wins against sub-par competition, Michigan matched-up against Illinois State: a team that hits and blocks as well as the Wolverines.

But Michigan put an exclamation point to the end of the tournament with a tight four game win (30-28, 26-30, 31-29, 30-25) over the Redbirds.

The win gave the Wolverines their second straight Pepsi/Nike invitational tournament championship.

“I think our players did a great job at rising to the challenge,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “But (Illinois State) put the pressure on us.”

The Wolverines’ win on Saturday night did not come easy. The Redbirds – a powerhouse in the Missouri Valley Conference – played with a reckless abandon that, at times, gave Michigan fits on defense.

“They hit a lot of balls into our blockers’ hands, and they were just swinging for broke,” Rosen said. “They were blowing our hands back and getting balls to ricochet off our block. If we take care of those balls that game is over a lot quicker.”

The Wolverines (3-2) started out well in the first game and took a 3-1 lead after senior Megan Bowman’s kill. Soon, Illinois State (5-2) came back and the game became a back-and-forth matchup with long and exciting rallies and thunderous kills from both sides of the net. Michigan took the first game 30-28 after the Redbirds committed an attack error, and blocking error for the Wolverines’ last two points.

In the match’s second frame, the Redbirds jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but Michigan quickly fought back. During a particularly long rally, the Wolverines looked like they would lose the point when a deflected ball went sailing toward the far left corner of the court. But junior Danielle Pflum ran and dove – fully extending her body – to keep the rally going. Michigan went on to win the point when sophomore Mara Martin blocked a kill attempt, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

“That just fires you up so much,” said Brudzinski of the play. “If she makes a play like that, you just want to make one too.”

The turning point of the match was during game three. With the game tied at 29, two Illinois State players ran into each other trying to get to the ball. The referee blew the whistle, saying that the ball touched both players. Michigan was awarded the point and never looked back.

On Friday night, Michigan defeated Cleveland State (3-3). The Vikings had upset Illinois State earlier in the day but failed to make it two in a row.

Michigan fell behind early 3-1 in game one after a kill attempt was viciously blocked. But errors by Cleveland State allowed the Wolverines to stay in the game and Michigan took its first lead of the match, 7-6, after a Viking blocking error. The Wolverines ran away with the first game 30-20.

The second game of the match began much better for Michigan. After a kill by Pflum, the Wolverines took a commanding 8-3 lead. Michigan continued their great blocking and solid digging throughout the game, which was most evident at the midway point.

During a nail-biting back-and-forth rally, in which Martin made two diving digs to save the ball, Miller put the point away with a punishing spike to put the Wolverines up 19-7. Michigan won the next two games easily 30-14 and 30-12.

Michigan’s first win of the tournament came on Friday afternoon with a three game sweep of Akron (5-4).

“We are playing out of our minds and we’re just loving the game and loving what we’re doing,” said Pflum on Friday night. “We go into matches and we know we’re going to win. Instead of hoping and praying we know we’re going to do this and we know we’re going to play well and we know we’re going to get it done.”

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