Before Friday night’s match, there was a marked difference between the two teams on the court. Minnesota was very businesslike, performing its pre-game warm-ups with military precision. Each spike was reminiscent of an old Batman episode — Bang! … Pow! … Slam!

Michigan Volleyball
Led by senior captain Jennifer Gandolph, Michigan nearly pulled off a win Friday night against No. 5 Minnesota. The Wolverines went on to defeat Iowa on Saturday. (Shubra Ohri/Daily)

On the other side of the court, Michigan seemed unfazed. Players were smiling, laughing and even dancing along to the disco hit “Kung Fu Fighting.”

Although drastically different, each team’s warm-up style seemed to work for the players. The match ahead turned out to be a nail-biter.

Friday night’s match against Minnesota was the biggest of the weekend, overshadowing Saturday night’s game against Iowa.

The Wolverines easily handled the Hawkeyes Saturday, winning in three games, 30-22, 30-19, 30-22. Michigan played as well as it has played all season and made the Hawkeye players look like a lost team on the court.

But it was Friday night’s game that was the true thriller. Minnesota was No. 5 in the country and in the middle of a heated race for the Big Ten Championship with No. 8 Ohio State and No. 4 Penn State.

“Everyone was fired up, but we weren’t over the top,” senior Jennifer Gandolph said.

Michigan went toe-to-toe in five games (30-28, 33-35, 30-19, 20-30, 12-15) against No. 5 Minnesota in a tough home loss. The scores reflect the ever-changing swing of momentum that took place in the match.

The match sometimes looked like a ballet as both teams rallied back and forth gracefully and efficiently — the digs, sets and spikes looking, at times, like a choreographed piece of dance.

At other times the game more resembled the musical “Stomp.” Players were improvising — doing anything possible to keep the ball in play — and sacrificing their bodies for the good of the team.

Nothing exemplified this more than sophomore Erin Cobler’s unbelievable dig to help the Wolverines set themselves up for match point in game three.

With both teams knotted up at 1-1, Michigan was on cruise control for game three. With the score 28-19, the Wolverines were trying hard to reach game point, while the Golden Gophers were desperately trying to stay alive. After a ricochet play on the Wolverine end, Cobler did her best “Matrix” impression, diving on the ground into a tuck and roll and hitting the ball back over the net. This allowed Gandolph to make a kill moments later to send the crowd of more than 2,000 into a frenzy and give the Wolverines a 2-1 lead.

“That’s when you know things are going right,” coach Mark Rosen said. “That’s when you’re on fire and in the zone.”

Michigan looked to be in control going into game four. The team had a 2-1 lead, game three was a blow out and it appeared the Golden Gophers were playing timid.

But Minnesota, led by seniors Erin Martin and Trisha Bratford, was not about to be outdone. The game was close, going back and forth, until freshman Lyndsay Miller hit a roaring spike to get the big kill and pull Michigan within one, 15-14. The Golden Gophers then bore down and answered back with four straight points: a tipping kill by Bratford, a Michigan error, another kill by Martin and a blocking error off a Bratford spike. In all, Minnesota outscored the Wolverines 15-6 from that point on to take game four 30-20.

Martin and Bratford dropped a barrage of kills on the Wolverines, notching 27 and 24 kills, respectively, for the game to help Minnesota.

“We pretty much just stayed with our game,” Gandolph said. “They made a minor adjustment and took it to us.”

Game five looked bleak for Michigan, as it went down 8-3 early. But the team rallied, bringing the score within one at 8-7. The Wolverines would then tie the game at 10 on senior Lisa Gamalski’s service ace.

Gamalski was a big reason Michigan played so well. Recording her second straight triple-double (11 kills, 48 assists, 27 digs), Gamalski took the spotlight and performed at the highest level of competition. From momentum-changing kills and crowd-dazzling digs to the mundane, but important, sets and assists, Gamalski was a true leader on the court.

“I thought she was a warrior tonight,” Rosen said. “Late in the game, she was going to do anything we had to do to try and win that game.”

After a Minnesota attack error brought Michigan to within one at 13-12, the Golden Gophers became the benefactors of a questionable line call on a Martin kill that gave Minnesota game point. Then Bratford’s kill ended the grueling match.

“All around, it was well-played on both ends,” Gamalski said.

The Wolverines are now in sixth place in the Big Ten standings with an 8-8 record in conference play. Overall the team is 18-7.

“We’re going to be a top contender (in the conference),” Gamalski said. “I hope that a lot of teams start respecting us.”

If they gain that respect, don’t expect the Wolverines to stop dancing.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *