The Michigan volleyball season began the same way it ended last year – with a 3-0 loss to Kansas State.
The Wolverines competed in the Florida State Invitational this weekend, battling Kansas State, Florida Atlantic, and Florida State.
Ready to redeem themselves after last year’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss, the Wolverines began match play against the Wildcats last Friday night.
“Everyone was pretty fired up to play them,” senior Erin Moore said. “But once we got going the wrong way, we couldn’t turn it around because we kept thinking: This is what happened last year.”
Returning seven of eight starters from last season, Michigan matched the 15th-ranked Wildcats early-on but trailed 19-15 midway through the first frame. Then, the Wolverines began their streaky, inconsistent play that characterized much of their performance this weekend. Kansas State widened its lead to eight and took the first frame 30-22. A 10-0 Wildcat run at the mid-way point of the second frame and a 9-2 jumpstart at the beginning of the third frame was the difference as Michigan lost the final two frames 30-25 and 30-17.
“The girls really wanted to redeem last year,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “They were excited, and I didn’t think we played well. We were very inconsistent.”
But the Wolverines bounced back on Saturday against Florida Atlantic, a team they have never played. After splitting the first two frames 30-26 and 30-28, Michigan took 60 of the next 90 points to win the match 3-1. Led by Moore’s match-high 18 kills and junior Jennifer Gandolph’s 15 kills and 14 digs, the Wolverines finished the match with a .407 attack percentage – their highest since a .512 percentage against Eastern Michigan in 2001.
“I think we were just kind of pissed that we got beaten up by K-State,” Moore said about what motivated the team to their first win of the year.
Redshirt freshmen Erin Cobler, subbing for injured four-year-starter Nicole Paquette, played well on defense, netting eight blocks.
“It is definitely big shoes to fill,” Cobler said. “I learned a lot from Nicole last year and she would always give me pointers and reminders while I was on the sideline.”
Playing without the floor leader, Poquette, in their final match against the Seminoles also proved costly for the Wolverines.
“Nicole is not only a great front row player and a great back-row player, but also a great server,” Rosen said. “Her absence does change what we do. It limits us.”
Poor serving and defensive play from the Wolverines propelled the Seminoles to a 2-0 game lead. The Wolverines took the third frame 30-21 behind solid play from seniors Moore and Chantel Reedus, but the Seminoles won the fourth frame 30-21 as the Wolverines hit just .088 for the match and were out-blocked at the net 16-6.
“Overall I was disappointed in the way we played,” Rosen said. “I think we had the ability to play much better and my expectations are for us to play much better. We are playing below our expectations.”
Despite the disappointing weekend, the Wolverines were able to play many of the younger players who lacked big-game experience, and they were surprisingly optimistic during Monday morning practice.