Technically speaking, every game is anyone’s game to win. But when it comes to Big Ten volleyball, the euphemism couldn’t be truer.

The Big Ten is the strongest conference in the NCAA this season by a landslide. No. 3 Penn State — No. 1 until the end of October — Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue are ranked among the top-25 in the nation. And Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota represent the conference in the top-10 poll as of Nov. 1. Both Michigan and Illinois have also been ranked at times this season.

So it only makes sense that Big Ten teams have taken a liking to beating up on one another this season. Even the seemingly invincible offense of Penn State was shut down last week by No. 4 Nebraska. Yet the Fighting Illini, who nearly stole a game from the Nittany Lions in five sets, were swept by the Wolverines in three sets. On Friday night, Michigan, who had also given Penn State a scare at home, defeated the Cornhuskers in yet another five-set thriller.

In this conference, there is no formula for victory.

“The Big Ten is a great preparation for the NCAA Tournament,” said junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin. “We see countless teams that are amazing, that are top-ranked teams. Just being able to be in the conference and play every single weekend, every single night, against a team that’s ranked is going to help us out a lot.”

For Michigan (7-7 Big Ten, 19-9 overall), the difference between a win and a loss in conference play has been like a flip of a coin.

“We know that the games that we’ve lost we could have played a lot better,” said senior middle blocker Claire McElheny. “Whether we would have won (those games) or not, I don’t know.”

Having taken down Nebraska and cruised past Iowa in straight sets, it would appear that the Wolverines are getting hot at the right time. This weekend’s results brought a .500 conference record for Michigan and momentum heading into the final six games of the season.

The difference over the last five games, according to Michigan coach Mark Rosen, has had nothing to do with physical strength.

“Confidence is one of those weird things where you can’t give it to anybody, you have to earn it,” Rosen said. “You have to be in enough situations and you have to earn that right to have that confidence, and I think this team is starting to get that.”

While both Rosen and his team insist that nothing about their game has changed physically, the stats prove that Michigan volleyball has hit its stride.

“We’re a young team, and we’ve known that all year,” Rosen said. “We haven’t used it as an excuse but it’s a reality.”

Among the young starters are freshman libero Tiffany Morales, middle blocker Krystalyn Goode and sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller. Junior outside hitter Molly Toon recorded her career-high 25 kills and Dannemiller nearly tied her personal record of 64 assists in the match versus Nebraska. Younger players and upperclassmen alike have raised the team’s kill percentage and kept errors to a minimum.

So what’s next for the Wolverines?

“Wisconsin,” Rosen said. “We got swept by Wisconsin last year in their place and here, we got beaten by them at their place. We want Wisconsin.”

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