After switching lineups every game of the season, Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen said he finally realized his team’s biggest setback. It wasn’t its physical approach to the game, but rather its mental approach.
That doesn’t mean he was displeased, though.
Rosen saw an unanimated team take the court this weekend as the 23rd-ranked Wolverines rebounded from their first loss of the season on Friday with wins over Eastern Illinois and No. 25 Northern Iowa on Saturday to finish 3-1 at the Golden Eagle Classic in Milwaukee, Wisc.
“It was an interesting weekend,” Rosen said. “It was a really good weekend in the development of the team, but I think it had its ups and downs. We weren’t very enthusiastic as a team before Saturday night.”
Michigan (10-1) defeated Eastern Illinois in straight sets, 25-13, 25-16, 25-20, to begin the day Saturday before beating Northern Iowa 25-16, 23-25, 25-17, 27-25. Friday, Michigan also defeated Wake Forest in straight sets and lost to Marquette in four sets.
Following the flat performance against the Golden Eagles in which the Wolverines struggled to gain any momentum, Michigan’s energy returned with four different players tallying double-digit kills.
“We want to play with that passion, and I think long term we’re trying to build a great culture and personality of this team,” Rosen said. “We want to create the team identity that we want. I think this weekend was a very good step towards that, in part because we had adversity and that’s when you’re going to figure out how you respond.”
Junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross had another standout performance, posting 11 kills and four blocks against Eastern Illinois along with 10 kills and six blocks against the Panthers. Cross now has three straight games with at least 10 kills.
Saturday’s first game began with the Wolverines jumping out to a 14-6 lead over Eastern Illinois before stretching the lead to 19-9. Michigan would hold a double-digit lead the rest of the set.
Following a back-and-forth set win in the second, the third set looked to be more of the same, with 11 ties until the score was 12-12. The Wolverines put together a 7-2 run after taking a small lead and never looked back, quickly closing out the game, highlighted by their .347 kill percentage.
A much tougher Northern Iowa team didn’t do much to slow the Michigan attack in the evening finale. Led by junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin, the Wolverines posted 64 kills, 19 of which came from Erwin.
Erwin had a total of 26 on the day while junior outside hitter Molly Toon totaled 16 kills and seven blocks in both games after moving to the right-side hitter position in redshirt senior Claire McElheny’s absence.
“I think Molly Toon did an exceptional job on the right side,” Rosen said. “I thought she took a big step this weekend. We spent a lot of time giving her experience and I was very pleased with how she played.”
Down 0-2 in the first set to Northern Iowa, the Wolverines went on a 5-0 run to take a lead they wouldn’t give up. The second set was a different story, though, as the Panthers raced out to a 14-4 lead. Slowly, Michigan worked its way back to tie the game and take a 21-20 lead, but it didn’t last long, as Northern Iowa tied the set immediately and took the last two points to win.
Tied at two in the third set, Michigan went on a 5-1 run to take a lead they wouldn’t give up. Using several smaller runs again, the Wolverines built an eight-point lead to make the score 19-11. Freshman libero Tiffany Morales finished out the set with a service ace after both teams traded points.
After taking the first point of the fourth set, Michigan would trail until they took a 12-11 lead. The Wolverines built a 23-18 lead, but Northern Iowa hung on until Michigan used a 3-0 run to end the game, capped by a block assist from Toon.
Sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller continued her strong play with 79 assists while Morales led the team in digs on the day, with 29.
“I think it was just a matter of getting back to what we do best,” Toon said. “We were getting our passing back and getting our rhythm back.”