The difference between the Michigan volleyball program now, and the program back in 1999 — when coach Mark Rosen took over — was the team’s state of mind.
“There hadn’t been a lot of high level, consistent success,” Rosen said. “(The 1999 team was) just beat down externally. In a conference like this, if you’re struggling it becomes a long process each year.”
In the 26 years prior to Rosen’s arrival, the Wolverines qualified for the NCAA tournament just once in 1997. During this period it became easy for a team to be satisfied with a mediocre season and no postseason.
But since Rosen took over, Michigan has made five appearances in the tournament, including a third straight with this year’s bid.
The team will play Friday against Rice in first-round action. Rosen knows the senior-laden Owls will be calm and ready to win, but he is confident the young Michigan team will step up and play to its potential.
The recent success of the program has created a winning attitude at Michigan, allowing this young team to play beyond its years. No longer are players satisfied with just a winning season.
This hasn’t translated into a Big Ten championship just yet — the team has never won one.
But four conference opponents currently rank in the top-16, three of them — Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State — in the top-10.
“Our goal all along is to create a team that can compete for the Big Ten championship,” Rosen said. “If you’re competing to win the Big Ten championship, you’re competing at the very elite level of college volleyball. The Big Ten is the best conference out there.”
The players who were Wolverines when Rosen took over and the ones he first recruited also played crucial roles in the building process.
According to Rosen, the athletes recruited by previous coach Greg Giovanazzi, a good friend of Rosen’s, may not have been the best players, but the team’s willingness to change allowed Rosen and his coaching staff to bring in an entirely new system. His staff — wife and associate head coach Leisa Rosen and assistant coach Jun Liu — brought in a system which required a better level of work ethic off the court and better execution on it. But it was the first group of players Rosen recruited that really put things into motion.
“We were selling them on a dream,” said Rosen of recruiting players without having a rich, winning tradition. “We were naturally going to get good risk-taking type players.”
And the type of players Rosen found in his first recruiting class have become some of the best players in the program’s history: Michigan volleyball’s first ever All-American, Erin Moore, who graduated last season, and seniors Lisa Gamalski and Sarah Allen.
The better the program, the harder it is to find the specialized player needed to improve the team. These are the type of athletes most recruited by top schools around the country.
“With each class the level of kids that could help us get better, got smaller,” said Rosen. “We were fortunate that a lot of (this season’s freshman) were from close by and knew a lot about Michigan and wanted to be a part of (the program).”
Rosen hopes that in the future, more than just local recruits will want to be a part of the Michigan tradition, too.