The No. 19 Michigan volleyball team’s youth showed during the first three sets against No. 20 Kentucky last night. But the Wolverines matured at just the right time.
Michigan (25-8 overall) overcame a 2-1 set deficit to defeat the Wildcats three sets to two in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky.
“We are a very young team,” Rosen said. “But in that set, we needed to grow up very fast and we did.”
Down 14-10 in the fourth frame and on the verge of being bounced out of the tournament, Michigan responded.
After a service ace by freshman libero Sloane Donhoff and two kills from junior outside hitter Juliana Paz knotted the score at 15, the Wolverines had the Wildcats on their heels.
“It was a streaky match,” sophomore setter Lexi Zimmerman said. “And we had all of the momentum at that point, so we just used it to our advantage.”
The Wolverines used that momentum to win the final set and match from the hometown Wildcats (26-6).
“We didn’t play perfect tonight,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “But we played well and that got us the win.”
In a game filled with streaks, Michigan held a 24-20 advantage in the opening set only to see the lead evaporate.
“The crowd played a bit of a factor in the first set,” said junior right side hitter Megan Bower, who had 12 kills. “We weren’t as loose as we could be and that played a big part.”
After its tough first-set loss, the Wolverines found their rhythm and looked comfortable in front of the Wildcat crowd.
Freshman right side hitter Alex Hunt grabbed 15 kills in the match, and junior outside hitter Juliana Paz led the team with 22.
“Juliana went off in the fourth set,” Zimmerman said. “She took over offensively and emotionally and we just followed her lead.”
When the Wolverines were down in the fourth frame, Paz and senior middle blocker Beth Karpiak stepped up.
Karpiak, who notched 15 attacks, was one of four Wolverine hitters with double figures in kills.
Defensively, the Wolverines elevated their play against the Wildcats at the hands of senior libero Kerry Hance, who tallied 25 digs. Bower added 21.
“She outdug everybody in the gym tonight,” Rosen said of Hance. “We told Kerry and Megan that the way Kentucky conducts their offense could give them a lot of potential digs tonight.”
The Wolverines will need to play with the same poise tonight when they face 13th-seeded St. Louis in the second round at 7 p.m. in Lexington.