Like a juggler, Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen continues to add more pieces to the Wolverines’ attack as the young season progresses.
But this weekend in the Utah Valley Invitational in Orem, Utah, Rosen must have been juggling torches because his offense was on fire.
No. 24 Michigan (6-0) brandished a balanced attack and made easy work of the four-team tournament field. The Wolverines recorded double-digit kills from at least three players in each of the matches and dropped only one set on the weekend.
Redshirt junior right side Claire McElheny led the charge, posting 38 kills on the weekend to earn MVP honors. But she wasn’t the only one taking home hardware at the end of the weekend. Senior libero Sloane Donhoff won Defensive Player of the Tournament, putting up 46 digs in the three matches.
Senior outside hitter Alex Hunt and senior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher were also named to the all-tournament team. Hunt put down 37 kills on the weekend to pad her team high of 66 on the season.
“The past two weeks, we’ve been working on the setter-hitter connection,” McElheny said. “Last weekend, it was more trying to build trust and over the past week we got a lot of confidence in our setters. All around, our offense really stepped it up this weekend. It just felt good. Everyone looked confident and felt confident, and we’re beginning to trust everyone a lot better.”
Freshman setter Lexi Dannemiller set the tone for the weekend, putting up a double-double on Friday evening against Utah Valley (4-2). Michigan proved to be the superior Wolverines and cruised to a victory in straight sets. In the last frame, Michigan overcame a 24-22 set point to win 27-25 and grab its first win of the weekend. Dannemiller had at least 40 assists in each of the three matches in Utah and took home Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
On Saturday, Michigan lost its first set of the weekend to Santa Clara (3-3) to even the match at 1-1. But the Wolverines quickly turned up the heat and sailed through the last two sets, winning by 10 and 12 points, respectively. Cal Poly (3-4) was no match for Michigan on Saturday evening, losing in straight sets.
“A lot of players are making huge contributions,” Rosen said. “Lexi Dannemiller as a freshman, coming in and taking the reins early, she’s done a great job. This weekend, we got great offense out of Claire McElheny. We were getting more work out of our middles and our offense became a lot more balanced.”
With two weekends completed, Rosen is starting to get away from what he called the “vanilla offense” and add more complications and different looks.
“We changed a lot of things in our system in the last six-to-nine months and we need to keep developing our offensive options,” Rosen said. “We were pretty developed the first weekend and this weekend we started stepping it up a bit. But we still have a lot of things we need to add to our offense to be able to beat the high-level Big Ten teams.”
Next weekend will mark Michigan’s first game against a big-conference team when the Wolverines head to Dayton, Ohio to take on Florida State, Pepperdine and Dayton.
“It’s early in the year so there’s still a ton of things for us to work on,” Rosen said. “I’m pleased with the progress but very understanding that there’s a lot of things for us to get better at.”