Ask Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen what his team needs to work on and he won’t have a definitive answer.
“I think in every part of the game we can better,” Rosen said. “There’s nothing where we really want to be at yet. I think offensively we still have a lot of room to become consistent. I think defensively we still have a lot of room to get better.”
Ask him what he is most pleased with, though, and he’ll respond without hesitation.
“I like how this team is competing,” Rosen said. “We found ways in tough situations to be successful. I think they are working hard everyday to put themselves in a position to be as competitive as possible. It’s hard to coach that part.”
The Wolverines (10-1) have played in just two five-set games — against Virginia Tech and Arkansas — and have won both of them, in part because of their resilience. Down 14-15 to Arkansas and facing a match point, Michigan fought back to take the next two points and win the final set.
Every team aims to be competitive, though, and the Wolverines can’t rely on competitiveness alone to win the Big Ten. The back row still lacks experience and wasn’t at its strongest in Milwaukee over the weekend, but if the game against Arkansas is any example, Michigan has shown the ability to keep games close.
NOTHING CROSSES CROSS: At 6-foot-4, there isn’t much that intimidates junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross. After playing for the Canadian national team over the summer at the Pan Am Games, Cross has stepped up her game, leading the Wolverines in total blocks (53), and ranking second in kills with (101).
Time after time, Cross has been right at the net to deny opponents an opportunity to put together a run and gain momentum. She has been a key piece to the Wolverines’ hot start, and will continue to be important as the team prepares for start of Big Ten play in two weeks.
“I think it’s about not being content with success and that you have to keep pushing,” Cross said. “We’re working a lot harder in practice and getting a lot of stuff done.”
The Scarborough, Ontario native has been a model of consistency for her team, tallying double-digit kills in the last three games. Cross rarely leads her team in kills every game, but her consistent season almost didn’t happen.
Nine weeks ago, an ankle sprain and two partial muscle tears around the ankle nearly took Cross out of the season opener.
“Obviously it was a scare and a very serious injury,” Cross said. “When it first happens, you freak out about it, but at some point you have to do what you have to do to get better. I knew I would be fine. I knew my ankle would be fine and I knew my body would be fine.”
It begs the question: Is Cross intimidated of anything then?
“No,” she responded, before quipping, “Maybe (assistant coach) Leisa Rosen.”
DANNEMILLER A LEADER: In 2011, setter Lexi Dannemiller was a talented freshman, battling for a starting position against veteran junior Catherine Yager. This year, Dannemiller is the more experienced of the Wolverines’ two setters, mentoring true freshman Carly Warner.
Dannemiller’s starting spot hasn’t been in jeopardy this year, but she has had to take on more responsibility as a leader in her position.
“I like being the older one better, just because I feel like I can help Carly out,” Dannemiller said. “She can learn from me, but I feel we can both learn from each other”
Despite fitting into a new role, Dannemiller hasn’t dropped off pace of matching last season’s strong numbers. Through 11 games, the sophomore has 405 assists, averaging a hair below 11 per set. She is also fifth on the team in kills (43) and third on the team in digs (72).
Named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team last year, Dannemiller’s highest priority is helping the seven freshmen begin their collegiate careers on a strong note, rather than repeat her performance.
“My role has completely changed this year,” Dannemiller said. “It’s become less about trying to fit in and more of being a leader. Not necessarily a captain, but on the court you have to take charge.
“At times it can be a little bit uncomfortable, but I’ve enjoyed it and really embraced it.”