The Michigan volleyball team has been enjoying its share of individual accolades and records this season, most recently with its 100th win at Cliff Keen Arena in a 3-0 sweep over Purdue Saturday evening. But its players have been very clear that the only achievement worth celebrating this year will be a Big Ten title and a run in the NCAA Tournament.
The only time that Michigan volleyball has ever finished on top of the Big Ten was in 1981 under coach Sandy Vong. It has never advanced past the second round in the NCAA Tournament.
After struggling for several weeks on the road, Michigan moved back within striking distance of the Big Ten title this weekend with sweeps over Illinois on Friday and Purdue the following day. The Wolverines (6-4 Big Ten, 12-8 overall) had fallen as far as seventh in the conference after losing three straight away from home, negating the team’s 4-1 start in the Big Ten, the second-best in team history. They are now in a four-way tie for third place with half of the season still remaining.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen was relieved to have all of his starters ready for Friday’s match against the Illini after injuries seriously disrupted Michigan’s play on the road. Defensive specialist Carrie Ritchie returned after a week of illness and Erin Moore, the team’s captain, overcame an ankle injury sustained just a week ago.
Against Purdue (0-10, 9-13) on Saturday, the Wolverines took advantage of the lesser opponent and jumped out to a quick lead that grew to as many as 10 points late in the first game. Michigan played with good defensive pressure, holding the Boilermakers to a terrible hitting percentage in game one behind the strength of Moore, Katrina Lehman and Nicole Poquette up front.
The real dominance in the match came on offense. The focus of the Wolverines’ attack is to spread the ball around to keep the opposition off balance. Michigan’s setter Lisa Gamalski dished out 50 assists, helping three Wolverines (Moore, Jennifer Gandolph, and Chantel Reedus) to score in double-digits. Reedus led all scorers with 16 kills.
Michigan started the weekend determined to avenge its three-game slide. Illinois (3-7, 9-10) despite its record, posed a difficult threat considering it had taken its last two opponents to five games before losing.
The Illini jumped to an early lead, but the Wolverines climbed their way back into the game with a service rotation by Alicia Boswell, who had recently worked her way into the lineup as designated server for Chantel Reedus. Previously, freshman Lindsay Dern had been serving for Reedus, but Rosen reiterated that he is “only riding the hot hand right now.”
In their sweep, the Wolverines committed an uncharacteristically high five ball-handling errors. But three players scored in double figures, highlighted by a spectactular sideline shot by Reedus in game three. Reedus coolly sent the ball sailing opposite the court to an unsuspecting Illini defender, and even veteran coach Rosen was blown away by Reedus’ athleticism and power.
“It was phenomenal,” Rosen said of Reedus’ spike.
Michigan will be on the road to face Michigan State on Wednesday before returning home to Cliff Keen to play host to Penn State this weekend.