EVANSTON —Winning on the road can be one of the hardest
things for any sports team to do. Unfamiliar surroundings, a
hostile crowd, and simply the wear and tear of traveling can all
spell trouble. None of these seem to slow down the Michigan
volleyball team, which improved to 20-11 overall and 8-4 on the
road this past weekend, as it picked up a pair of 3-1 wins at No.
18 Illinois on Friday and unranked Northwestern on Saturday.

Kate Green
JOEL FRIEDMAN/Daily
The Michigan volleyball team earned a key sweep away from home this weekend and will head into the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Colorado with momentum.

“We’ve been playing very well on the road all
year,” coach Mark Rosen said, “We’re actually
playing better on the road than we are at home in a lot of
ways.”

The Wolverines came out strong Saturday, sparked by two blocks
from freshman Megan Bowman, giving them an early lead. Typically
solid play from seniors Lisa Gamalski and Nicole Poquette helped
Michigan hold on for a 30-17 win in game one.

Game two, however, was a different story. Neither team could
build a substantial lead, until finally the Wildcats overcame
frustration over a questionable call and took a 29-27 lead —
but they could not close out. The Wolverines fought back and scored
four consecutive points to take game two 31-29.

Just when it appeared that Michigan had seized control of the
match, Northwestern came surging back. Wildcat senior Iwona Lodzik
led her team to an early five-point lead, and the Wolverines could
not regain control. Lodzik committed two service errors, but time
and time again she and fellow senior Erika Lange spearheaded a
strong Northwestern front which would not let the Wolverines back.
Lodzik redeemed herself by serving out the Wildcats’ 30-24
victory in game three.

Game four was a fight all the way through, as the teams traded
points, but Northwestern fought to take a 28-24 lead and looked
determined to take the match to a fifth game. Michigan senior Erin
Moore stepped up to lead her team to a 30-28 victory, finishing off
the match with a six-point rally. Moore took it upon herself and
the veterans to right the Wolverines’ ship after they began
to fall apart.

“I just feel that when it gets like that we have to go
back to something that works. (Gamalski) and (junior Jennifer
Gandolph) have been here as long as I’ve been here, its been
(Gamalski’s) set and (Gandolph) and my balls when its gotten
crazy. We always seem to go back to that system, and it
works.”

Gandolph also stepped up to help the Wolverines in a big way.
With such a strong Northwestern front line, Michigan was forced to
get more balls out to her, and she stood up well to the
challenge.

“We got (Gandolph) way more balls than we normally do, and
that’s a lot of pressure on her, especially against a big
blocking team like that, I thought that she held up really well,
her stats maybe didn’t look great, but I think we put her in
a situation where she was going to suffer because of it,”
Rosen said.

Friday night was a different story for the Wolverines, perhaps
the inspiration for their quick start on Saturday. The Illini
opened up with a 30-21 victory, but after opening a two-point lead
midway through game two, Michigan never looked back, winning the
final three games 30-26, 30-28, and 30-22.

Friday night’s win was a bit of a surprise, as Illinois
had been 11-0 at home and was contending for a Big Ten title and a
chance to host first-round competition in the NCAA Tournament. The
win gives Bowman newfound confidence in her team as it heads into
the NCAA Tournament, where it will face Colorado.

“I think our team took that next step, we can make it all
the way if we keep playing like we have,” Bowman said.

Beating Colorado will not, however, be an easy task. The
Buffaloes (13-7 Big 12, 21-9 overall), have played a tough schedule
and will be prepared for the challenges Michigan brings. Six of the
12 teams in the Big 12 conference advanced to the tournament, and
Colorado also faced top-16 teams Penn State and Colorado State.

The match is scheduled for Friday at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley,
Calif.

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