Before Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen was hired in 1999, the Wolverines had managed just four 20-win seasons in the program’s 26-year history.
But after Michigan’s four-set victory at Northwestern on Saturday, it has now eclipsed that mark in six of Rosen’s 11 seasons at the helm, with four of those 20-win campaigns coming in the last four years.
“We’re really proud of how far the team has come,” Rosen said. “(Before 1999) there had been no tradition of success here. … But after making the NCAA Tournament the last couple seasons and making the Sweet 16 the last two years, we’ve definitely come a long way.”
Against the Wildcats, the 15th-ranked Wolverines fell behind early in the first frame and never recovered. Northwestern displayed why it is fourth in the conference in blocks per game, out-blocking Michigan 8-0 inside Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wolverines were forced into a mediocre -0.023 attack percentage.
“Northwestern played lights out and buzz-sawed us in game one, so I was a little concerned about how we were going to come out the rest of the match,” Rosen said. “But games two and three were probably two of our best games of the entire season.”
The Wolverines (8-6 Big Ten, 20-7 overall) played a “very clean match” the rest of the way, according to Rosen. In the final three sets, the team mustered an .335 attack average.
Two Michigan hitters — sophomore Alex Hunt and senior Juliana Paz — both had double-digit kills and digs in the contest, with Hunt garnering the highest number of kills in the match with 15. Junior setter Lexi Zimmerman dished out 43 assists, giving her over 1,000 for the third straight year.
But it was much more than a milestone victory.
It was the glue to a small crack in a tough conference stretch for the Wolverines.
After beginning the Big Ten season with a 4-1 mark, Michigan was 3-5 in the month leading into this weekend’s match against the Wildcats. The Wolverines had struggled to play a match where they played well in the serving, passing and defensive departments.
Their best match during the streak was against No. 1 Penn State, in which the Wolverines took the Nittany Lions to the brink, eventually losing in a close five-set match.
Against Northwestern (5-9, 14-12), Michigan proved it could play well in all three aspects of the game. It held the Wildcats to a .098 attack percentage while minimizing the number of passing errors.
Additionally, the team had eight service aces in the victory, showing why the Wolverines are first in the conference in the category.
Rosen knows there is still room for improvement, and according to him, the team isn’t nearly satisfied with its season. Michigan still has work to do in its last six conference matches.
“Overall, for a few weeks, I thought our level of play stagnated,” Rosen said. “But this week, we worked really hard, improved and I think we might have turned the corner.”