The Michigan volleyball team danced through the competition this weekend, even to KC & and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way (I Like It).”
That is, until the 22nd-ranked Wolverines faced Rice during the final number of the Michigan/Nike Invitational.
Having handily swept its previous two matches – with Indiana Purdue Fort Worth (30-22, 30-26, 30-22) and New Hampshire (30-22, 30-15, 30-18) – Michigan laid back, allowing the Owls to attack. The plan worked: The Wolverines swept Rice.
“Tonight, we got a little sloppy,” Michigan head coach Mark Rosen said. “Give Rice credit. They were very aggressive throughout the match and got on our heels a little bit. We want to be the attacking team, and I didn’t think we did that tonight. That was one of the reasons to be frustrated: We let them be the attacking team, and we weathered it.”
Before facing Rice, Michigan established its dominance, allowing opponents just one lead – a short-lived 1-0 against New Hampshire. But the Owls showed off some moves and gained an advantage in each of the three games.
Rice, down 2-0, managed a tight game with the Wolverines. Leading 15-14, the Owls sought to widen the gap. Michigan’s sluggish play made a fourth game possible, but Rice’s attack errors kept the score close.
Yet another error by the Owls enabled Michigan to take the lead 28-27, and it never looked back, clinching the tournament title (30-25, 30-19, 30-28). The close win brings up the question: do the Spikers feel beatable?
“I don’t think you can call it vulnerable, you can call it confidence,” Rosen said. “We’d been challenged a couple of times. We were down tonight, in game three, and we came back and won. Those things allow us to have this confidence that when we get challenged, I think we’ll find ways to raise the level.”
Junior Katie Bruzdzinski raised her game, winning her third tournament MVP title this season. The Naperville-native tallied the most points on either side for each match, and improved her streak of double-digit kills to 26 matches.
Seniors Lyndsay Miller and Erin Penn and junior Stesha Selsky joined Bruzdzinski on the all-tournament team. Penn recorded a career high for attack percentage (.768) and tied her personal best for digs (17). Miller, celebrating her 20th birthday, capitalized a kill from Selsky to end each match.
The victory over Rice extended Michigan’s streak of seven consecutive sweeps. The Wolverines have won 24 straight games dating back to Sept. 2. Michigan (13-0) recorded an attack percentage of .308 for the entire tournament, including an efficient .654 during its first game against IPFW. It allowed its opponents to a .096 attacking percentage.
Rosen took opportunities to switch up the lineup during the Wolverines’ final tune-up before the Big Ten season. Using 13 of 14 players during the first two matches, a satisfied Rosen felt his adjustments furthered the development of the team. The Wolverines now shift their focus to the Big Ten. Despite starting the year undefeated, they refuse to let up before the Big Ten season.
“We need to get back in the gym and keep practicing,” Selsky said. “We have so many areas to get better.”
Said Penn: “All parts of our game need to keep getting better this week. We definitely need to step up our attacking, our defense and serving to get them more off balance.”
Throughout the preseason, Rosen admits the Wolverines have bullied some weaker teams. But, with five ranked teams in the Big Ten conference, Michigan’s schedule only gets tougher from here.
“When we come in, we’ve got to be aggressive after these teams,” Rosen said. “We’ve got to be aggressive as servers, aggressive as attackers, aggressive as blockers aggressive as defenders. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go toe-to-toe, get into a longer battle and be able to weather that battle.”
The battles begin at Cliff Keen Arena on Friday night against Indiana (9-3), but the first true test comes Saturday night in a “Maize Out” match against the 14th-ranked Lady Boilermakers (10-1).
Miller and the team plan on leaving their boogie shoes at home.
“We’re just ready to go out and fight and win games,” Miller said.