For Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen, this weekend was all about records.
But it wasn’t his program record breaking 178th win against No. 18 Purdue that Rosen was most focused on.
It was a more modest record: 1-1.
That is the Wolverines record each weekend of Big Ten play so far this season.
“We just haven’t put together a weekend yet,” Rosen said. “One night, we’ll play great and everything will be working for us. The next night, we look like a different team. We need to learn to play well two nights in a row, because .500 isn’t enough.”
Michigan (3-3 Big Ten, 15-3 overall) posted similar Big Ten results last season, registering six weekend splits on its way to a 10-10 conference record.
After a momentous win Friday night that vaulted Rosen past Sandy Vong on the program’s all-time wins list, the 23rd-ranked Wolverines came out flat against No. 19 Illinois (4-2, 13-4). The Illini swept Michigan for the first time this season.
“We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game,” sophomore setter Lexi Zimmerman said. “I’m not sure it was ‘B’ even. We started off slow, and instead of trying to work into Michigan volleyball, we just kind of fell apart.”
Michigan had its rhythm in the first set, and the two teams were locked in 13 ties before the momentum changed in favor of the Illini at 17-17.
Illinois finished the set by scoring seven of the next eight points and stopping the Wolverines’ powerful net attack.
The second set picked up where the first left off as the Illini ripped off six points and forced Rosen to call two timeouts early in the set.
Down 22-7, the Wolverines showed some signs of life and tallied 10 of the next 11 points to make it 23-17, forcing the Illini to call a timeout of their own.
But the double-digit deficit proved too much for Michigan to overcome. The Wolverines dropped the opening two sets for the first time this season.
“Our backs were just too far against the wall,” Rosen said. “You can’t go down that far and have a chance to come back.”
The frustration continued in the third set, as the Illini opened up a nine-point lead before Rosen used another timeout in desperation.
Again, the timeout ignited the Wolverines’ attack, as junior Juliana Paz served six straight points, but a three-point deficit was as close as the set would get. Illinois finished off Michigan 25-20 and handed the young squad its first sweep and home loss of the season.
“We just can’t be that streaky and expect to win,” Rosen said. “It was clear that we had too many things that weren’t on tonight.”
The loss was a complete turnaround after the Wolverines’ convincing four-set victory Friday night against Purdue.
Rosen’s record-setting victory was broadcast on ESPN2, giving Michigan its first match in the national limelight.
And in the spotlight, the Wolverines shined.
With her powerful left-hand spike, freshman hitter Alex Hunt led Michigan’s offensive attack, registering a career-high 21 kills and a .576 hitting percentage. Hunt began the season on the bench, but after a great showing against Wisconsin last weekend, Rosen knew she belonged in the lineup.
The move paid dividends on Friday as Hunt helped the Wolverines down the Boilermakers in only four sets.
“She was the reason why we changed our lineup,” Rosen said. “We needed to get her in the game, and you saw that. She was outstanding.”
Since All-American Katie Bruzdzinski graduated last year, Michigan has struggled to find a replacement on the left side. But if Hunt builds on her 32-kill performance this weekend, Rosen may have found a powerful spike to complement Paz on the offensive attack.
Michigan takes on No. 1 Penn State at State College on Friday, and any offensive mistakes, like those on Saturday night, will be exposed against the dominant Nittany Lions.
“We just need to put together a weekend,” Rosen said. “And we’re going to need a huge effort next weekend to do just that. We just need to play Michigan volleyball, and it’ll fall into place from there.”