The last Big Ten road trip of the season was a disappointing one for the Michigan volleyball team, as it dropped two decisions to Purdue and Illinois. Streaky play and an inability to control errors led to the team’s 3-2 loss to the Boilermakers on Friday and a 3-0 sweep by the Illini on Saturday.
Despite season-best performances from several players, the Wolverines weren’t able to play with enough consistency on the road to top their opponents, and now face a tough must-win situation in their final week of conference play if they are to reach their goal of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a disappointing weekend, there’s no question,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “It was disappointing for us from a standpoint that our expectations were a lot higher, and it was disappointing because it all but eliminates us from NCAA possibilities. The problem was that we were very inconsistent this weekend.”
Saturday’s loss to Illinois capped the unsatisfactory road trip for the Wolverines. The team jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first game but couldn’t hold on to win, dropping the contest 30-21. Michigan kept it close in the next two games, but more mistakes – 29 errors and a .162 hitting percentage – allowed the Illini to notch the sweep, taking the last two games 30-28 and 30-25, respectively.
“Saturday was difficult because of the emotions of Friday,” Rosen said. “We have to be able to handle the pressure of the match and the situations of the match and not be able to create a lot of free points for the other team.”
Inconsistency was what hurt Michigan the most Friday when it battled the Boilermakers in a grueling five-game match. The Wolverines dominated the first game, 30-17, tallying 21 kills to Purdue’s 11. They then dropped the next game, 36-34. It was the longest game Michigan has ever played under the two-year-old rally scoring system.
“We came out against Purdue in game one and just played absolutely phenomenal,” Rosen said. “We took it to them and won that game 30-17 and played great. And then we just kind of shut down and made a lot of errors and got ourselves in trouble.
“We came back in game three and did a great job again. We thought, ‘OK we’re back in control.’ Then we just went on another spree of errors and the next thing you know we end up losing that match.”
Despite holding a 2-1 game lead going into the fourth game, Michigan had a hitting percentage of zero in the last two games.
“We have a tendency sometimes to play at the level of the team we’re playing,” senior middle blocker Katrina Lehman said. “We play down to the level that other teams play, and then we just get caught off guard, and we’re just very erratic on the road.”
The Wolverines have won only twice on the road this season, against Iowa and Michigan State, and have only lost once at home, against No. 6 Minnesota.
“Purdue and Illinois are both two teams that we killed at home, but on the road, it just is a different story,” Lehman said.
Pressure, lack of focus, overconfidence and even under-confidence are some of the factors that may have contributed to the sub-par road performance Rosen said.
Still, for Lehman, last weekend’s performance brings on a new sense of urgency. There are only two regular season games left, and the senior doesn’t want them to be her last.
“This was such bad weekend, we have nothing to do but improve,” the three-year letter winner said. “This is it. If we don’t win these games, we won’t go to the NCAA Tournament. That’s our goal, to make the tournament. There’s a big sense of urgency. We have to win these games.”
Michigan faces Wisconsin this Friday and Northwestern on Saturday in the final two games of the season. The Wolverines lost to both teams on the road earlier this year.