Midway through the second set of the Michigan volleyball team’s loss to Michigan State on Wednesday, junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross bent over, hands on her hips and eyes looking up, focused on the scoreboard.

She looked more confused than frustrated. After being named the Big Ten player of the week for her performances against Illinois and Northwestern last week she had good reason to be stunned.

Her team had no answer for a Michigan State (4-5 Big Ten, 16-5 overall) squad that was ready for nearly every play Michigan ran.

“They executed in all phases of the game better than we did,” said a displeased Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “It doesn’t matter what system you run, or what your gameplan is — if you didn’t execute well it’s not going to be a very good outcome.”

The Wolverines ultimately fell in straight sets to the Spartans, 20-25, 17-25, 20-25, keeping the state of Michigan’s flag — given to the victor of the series since 1990 — far from their grasp.

Down 6-5 in the first set, the Wolverines responded with four straight points, capped by a kill from fifth-year senior and right-side hitter Claire McElheny. But the Spartans fought back to tie the game at 11 before they went on an 8-1 run. Michigan took six of the next seven points to answer back, but the Spartans used a 4-0 run to close the set.

The Wolverines (4-5, 16-7) hit a dismal .070 in the first set as part of a .113 average for the game.

An ace from sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller to begin the second set gave the Wolverines their only lead in the set, as Michigan State jumped out to an 8-3 lead shortly after. Michigan managed to rebound to only one point back, but the Spartans used a 6-0 run to make the score 16-9. A 4-0 run later in the set allowed Michigan State to finish the set with ease.

The Wolverines, running their newly implemented offense in which the setter has three passing options, struggled to hit the ball against an opponent prepared for every move.

Early in the second set, Dannemiller back set the lone senior in McElheny as she ran around the right. McElheny’s attempt was met by two Spartan blockers waiting for her, though, who swatted the ball down as if they were performing a drill.

“We didn’t run much offense tonight,” Rosen said. “We didn’t control the ball well enough and I don’t think we really ever got into a system. If we’re not in system it’s going to be easier to block you because it’s predictable. Everybody in the gym knows where the ball is going to go because we only have one option.”

Michigan looked for a fresh start in the third set, battling back-and-forth with the Spartans early on. The Wolverines tied the game at five and once again at 11, both on kills from Cross. Michigan made a habit of giving up two points for every point it scored, unable to handle the Spartans’ strong .366 attack percentage.

The Wolverines recorded just six team blocks after they tallied 10 last week in their win against Illinois.

“We just have to get better at how they block us and how they respond to us,” Dannemiller said. “When they adapt to our style we have to change things up and do stuff that we’re maybe not completely used to.”

Junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin was the lone Wolverine to total double-digit kills, with 13 on the night. Dannemiller led Michigan with 25 assists and tied junior defensive specialist Ally Sabol with a team-high 15 digs.

The loss is even more critical, as Michigan hosts No. 1 Penn State on Saturday.

But losing to a rival may have the longer-lasting impact on the team that sits in the middle of the Big Ten standings.

“We know it’s a big emotional game, but we try not to look at it as any other match because it’s probably too much pressure on ourselves,” McElheny said. “It always sucks to lose to Michigan State, though.”

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