Much like last year, the Michigan volleyball team is off to a fast start. Unlike last year, though, it continues to win with a young lineup.
Freshman libero Tiffany Morales led the Wolverines during the adidas/Michigan Challenge, totaling 30 digs in Saturday’s two games.
The Wolverines won the tournament, which was held in Ann Arbor, beating UMBC, 3-0, and Arkansas, 3-2, on Saturday. Michigan also beat Central Michigan on Friday. Sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller was named the tournament’s most valuable player with 109 assists in three games.
Michigan lost its first set of the weekend during the match against Arkansas, winning 25-17, 21-25, 25-22, 21-25, 18-16. The Razorbacks entered the weekend 4-0 and won their two games before playing Michigan.
“I like what I see from a lot of players right now,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “I like the versatility that we have. I think it’s been exciting progression after these last two weeks.”
The Wolverines fell as far behind as 6-1 in the first set before mounting their comeback. Michigan used a kill from sophomore outside hitter Lexi Erwin to take the lead for the first time, 13-12. Michigan would not look back in the set, leading by as much as five before winning.
The Wolverines nearly won the second set three times, leading 7-3, 13-7, 17-4 and 20-17, but Arkansas put together a 8-1 run to capture the set.
Michigan fought back to win the third set, playing a close match from the beginning. Tied at 17, the Wolverines scored three straight points to pull ahead and capped the set with one of junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross’ seven kills.
Arkansas fell behind 7-4 in the fourth set, but went on a 4-0 to take a 14-12 lead. The Wolverines worked back to a 20-18 lead, yet once more the Razorbacks went on a run, a 7-1 push to advance to the last set.
Michigan almost saw the game slip away in the fifth set, but the Wolverines tied the game at seven. Both teams traded points until an Erwin kill and an attack error by Arkansas to take the set.
Erwin’s strong play to begin the season continued on Saturday, recording 19 kills and 24 digs. Rosen has been pleased with her performance so far as well.
“She’s a player with a whole six-rotation skill set,” Rosen said of Erwin. “We brought her off the floor and I thought our team didn’t play as well. I think she’s kind of the glue that holds us together.”
The Wolverines also took on a UMBC team for the first time in program history on Saturday afternoon, and will gladly welcome the Raiders back, after winning 25-9, 25-16, 26-24.
Tied at two in the first set, Michigan raced out on a 5-0 run, highlighted by two back row kills from freshman outside hitter Kelly Murphy. Both teams traded points before the Wolverines put together a quick 4-0 run capped by freshman middle blocker Krystalyn Goode’s block and kill.
Michigan ultimately ended on a 10-0 run, though, after a Cross block. Cross, who played for the Canadian national team over the summer, recorded seven kills and five blocks in the game.
“I feel a lot more prepared for the season — mentally and physically,” Cross said of her time playing for Canada. “I learned a lot from being around such high caliber players over the summer.”
Michigan cruised through the second game as well, continuing to rotate freshmen through the lineup.
“We’re trying to find out what our best combinations are right now,” Rosen said. “It doesn’t have to do with classes right now, we’re trying to figure out what our best lineup is and at this point in the season we’re very much figuring that out.”
Down 2-0, the Wolverines went on an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead. The teams would go back-and-forth until Michigan pulled away on a 4-0 lead to make the score 22-13. Michigan capitalized on an attack error to claim the set.
The third set saw a different UMBC team, staking a four point lead to make the score 15-11, but the Wolverines methodically worked its way back, slowly but surely chipping away at the lead. A 3-0 lead gave Michgan the edge before a Murphy kill capped the game.
The Wolverines played without senior right side hitter Clare McElheny, who injured herself last weekend. McElhany is listed day-to-day according to Rosen, but the decision to have her play won’t be up Rosen to decide.
“It’s a medical decision not a coaching decision,” Rosen said. “We have to wait for her to be in a position where she’s at 100 percent health and there’s no risk for her to get hurt.”