Friday was “Rock the House Night” when the No. 19 Michigan volleyball team hosted the Michigan State Spartans before a sellout crowd at Cliff Keen Arena.
And the Michigan faithful weren’t disappointed as the Wolverines defeated their in-state rival in four sets (26-28, 25-17, 25-22, 25-17).
“I’m proud of how we competed,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “I don’t think we played the best match we can play and part of that is on Michigan State. Sometimes you’re not going to play well, but you need to find ways to win points, find ways to get the other team off-balance, and we did that tonight.”
With the Wolverines down 22-20 in the third set and the match tied at one set apiece, Michigan seemed to be on the verge of trailing 2-1.
But after kills from freshman right-side hitter Alex Hunt and senior middle blocker Beth Karpiak, the Wolverines took the lead from the Spartans and pulled out the set, 25-22.
The opening frame made it look like the Wolverines were going to have a much easier time with Michigan State.
Michigan jumped out to a quick 8-1 lead against the Spartans (5-10 Big Ten, 13-13 overall), with kills from Hunt and Karpiak. But Michigan State quickly regrouped and swung the momentum in their direction.
“Once they started making that comeback and showed that they weren’t just going to go away, all of a sudden we got tentative,” Rosen said. “We started thinking a lot more and playing less.”
Michigan State grabbed a 24-21 lead, only to see the Wolverines (10-6, 22-6) come back to tie the score at 24.
The Michigan comeback effort proved to be futile as the Spartans stole the first set, 28-26.
But the Wolverines bounced back in the second and third sets, thanks in large part to the play of Hunt and junior outside hitter Juliana Paz. Both registered six kills in the middle two sets.
The Wolverines’ defense should be credited for getting Michigan back into the match, though.
“In sets two and three, we held them to very low hitting percentages,” Rosen said. “A lot of that was our serving, but our blocking and defense really affected them.”
The Spartans were held to an attack percentage (number of successful kills) of -0.02 and 0.00 in the second and third set.
After winning the second set, the crowd, which included members of the Michigan men’s basketball team, erupted and sent Michigan into the locker room riding high.
“We’re a team that feeds off emotion,” sophomore setter Lexi Zimmerman said. “Once we got into the locker room, we knew we needed to get some momentum going and carry that out onto the floor.”
Zimmerman was the main architect in the Wolverines’ offense, dishing out 20 assists in the middle two sets.
“It was a tough match to set because early in the match we weren’t passing and then she was trying to force stuff,” Rosen said. “She really had to settle the match down and find something that worked, get her hitters going and she did.”
Michigan headed into the fourth set with hopes of giving the Spartans a little payback for what happened on Sept. 27 – the night when Michigan State defeated the Wolverines to give them their first loss of the season.
The Spartans weren’t so fortunate Friday night as Michigan won the fourth frame, 25-17.
Hunt registered four kills in the set. The Granger, Ind., native led the Wolverines with 15 kills in the match, while Paz and Karpiak each had 12.
But the Wolverines still need to concentrate on playing hard the entire match.
“We tend to break the game up into halves,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll play really hard the first and then get lax. When we have a lead, we need to work on getting more and not just sitting back.”
For now, Michigan can bask in the joy of getting a little revenge on its in-state rival.
“After losing to Michigan State, we wanted to get out of there as soon as possible,” Hunt said. “Tonight, we got the victory we deserved.”