Michigan coach Mark Rosen may not be working at Baskin Robbins, but he is hard at work adding new flavors to his offense for freshman setter Lexi Dannemiller.
“We are still running a very vanilla offense,” Rosen said. “It’s starting to get a little chocolate swirl, but we need to get to the point where it’s got whipped cream and a cherry and the whole bit. We are a long way from that, but we’re getting there.
“We are confident that we can probably be successful this weekend with the stuff we’re running, but we are going to need to have more tricks in our bag to compete in two weeks at the Big Ten level.”
While Rosen’s metaphors may be strange and may bring about a hankering for something sweet, his logic holds true. Dannemiller’s ability to spread the offense has been a cornerstone to Michigan’s success this year. Rosen simply knows that Dannemiller is going to have to become more creative with her sets to compete in the upcoming weeks.
His veteran women’s volleyball team has proven that it is capable of executing complex offenses under three-time All American Lexi Zimmerman. Big Ten Athlete of the Week Dannemiller will have to step up the flavor of this Wolverine sundae. But for now, as Rosen often says, “It’s a work in progress.”
Coming off their Dayton Flyers Classic victory, the 18th-ranked Wolverines are preparing for the Michigan/Adidas Invitational in Ann Arbor this weekend. Michigan will face Toledo and Xavier on Friday, and Texas A&M on Saturday.
Each team will bring its own unique challenges. Xavier plays a fast game that may prove difficult to contain. Texas A&M is the only other team in the tournament with an undefeated record. And Toledo has shown an aptitude for kills despite its losing record, which indicates that the Rockets are capable of going on major runs. Toledo was also one of the few teams to beat Michigan last year.
Being the last tournament of the preseason, the Wolverines will look to make the final adjustments to Dannemiller’s game, specifically how she weaves middle blockers sophomore Jennifer Cross and senior Courtney Fletcher into the offense.
The job of the middle blocker is multi-faceted and is integral to both the offensive and defensive sides of the net. The main responsibility, though, is in the name — blocking, a skill Michigan has been looking to improve since the start of the season.
“Jen and I take a lot of pride in our blocking,” Fletcher said. “It’s definitely not our best skill, it never has been. But before every match we look at each other and say, ‘We are going to go block some balls.’ We also just adopted swing blocking, and while it was a little rough in the beginning of the season, I thought last weekend was the best it’s been so far, and it will continue to get better.”
Added Cross: “No one wants to be a middle blocker. We’re constantly going from pin to pin. It’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it.”
Cross and Fletcher also share the same favorite kill spot — a complex set they call an “A.” It’s a set in which the setter fakes to the outside, getting the blockers in motion, before setting it behind her head for the middle blocker to, as Cross says, “Take that ball to pound town.”
Both middle blockers are waiting for Dannemiller to perfect this play, but they are confident it will come in time. No one can be sure what this is all going to amount to, but it is clear that Rosen has a definitive picture in his mind. For now, it would appear that he has a strong base and all the toppings to make this a delicious season, though only time will tell.