For the Michigan volleyball team this season, adversity has been a non-issue.
The team sprinted out to a 12-0 start, including a win over then-No. 3 Nebraska three weeks ago. During that stretch, the team lost just three sets.
But after unranked Oregon State swept the Wolverines Saturday (27-25, 25-22, 25-23) at the Michigan/Adidas Invitational, adversity is what everyone, especially coach Mark Rosen, is talking about.
“Adversity — it’s what builds teams, it’s what builds athletes, it’s what builds players,” Rosen said. “We can get a lot stronger because of the adversity we faced tonight.”
The Wolverines (12-1) began the tournament with two three-set victories over Marquette and Dayton on Friday.
But the following day proved to be a turning point in the team’s season.
For the first time since 2007, Michigan played at Crisler Arena rather than its usual home venue, Cliff Keen Arena.
The change of scenery was designed to draw a larger-than-normal crowd after the football game — which it did. The turnout was moderately successful, with 2,673 people in attendance.
Switching arenas for one day was a move to celebrate the undefeated team and its No. 6 ranking. Instead, after the 90-minute match, the maize-and-blue faithful were left stunned inside the arena.
The Wolverines jumped out to a comfortable 12-2 lead in the first set but fell from there.
“(Oregon State) served really aggressively,” senior right side hitter Megan Bower said. “We didn’t take care of the ball tonight. Their outside hitters were great, and they shut down ours. … They just took us out of our system.”
One of the outside hitters that exposed holes in the Michigan defense was Oregon State senior Rachel Rourke. Rourke, who is a member of the Australian National Team, tallied 25 kills in the win and took home Tournament MVP honors.
The Wolverines went down a set early for only the second time all season, and that’s when the team needed to rebound against the Beavers (10-3).
But they didn’t.
“(The team) is a very highly motivated group,” Rosen said. “They want to be good, and they want to be successful in what they do, but sometimes that success puts pressure on you and we didn’t manage that well today.”
“Our players got a little panicked and once that happened, we started doing things we don’t normally train to do — trust starts breaking down, then communication starts breaking down — it’s this spiral that you can’t get out of, and that’s very common in sports.”
The loss ended the Wolverines’ bid to begin the season 13-0 for the fourth straight year.
“We see every match as a learning experience,” said junior setter Lexi Zimmerman, who dished out 40 assists in the losing effort. “It just sucks to have to learn from a loss, but we know what we need to work on and what we need to do to get better.”
And the Wolverines will have to do that fast. Big Ten play starts next weekend with two road matches against Indiana and Purdue in arguably one of the toughest conferences in the country.
“The way teams respond to these types of games defines them,” Bower said. “It’s a loss, and it doesn’t define our season, but the way we respond will.”