One of the most memorable and prolific seasons in Michigan volleyball history came to an end on Saturday night as the Wolverines lost 3-1 to No. 11 Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Before Saturday’s match, Michigan was 1-8 against ranked teams, many times being its own worst enemy and falling behind early in matches. Saturday’s match was not much different.
Despite once again struggling in the first two games, Michigan came out strong in game three and cut Texas’ lead to 2-1.
But Michigan could not carry its momentum into game four. Texas senior Mira Topic came alive and helped lead the Longhorns to a comfortable lead, 20-14. The Wolverines, led by senior Jennifer Gandolph, answered with a 5-2 run. Later, a kill from freshman Katie Bruzdzinski and a block by freshman Lyndsay Miller pulled Michigan within two, 23-21.
Michigan had an uphill battle from that point on but was able to tie the game at 28 thanks to back-to-back kills from Bruzdzinski and Gandolph and a kill from sophomore Erin Cobler after a timeout. Texas senior Bethany Hoyden stepped to the service line for game point after another Texas kill and served up her fifth service ace of the match to win the game 30-28 and push the Longhorns into the Sweet 16.
“(When you) have a higher hitting percentage and you out-defend your opponent, you expect to win the match,” coach Mark Rosen said.
The Wolverines did out-hit their opponent. Their defense was stellar, as they out-blocked (17-9) the Longhorns and had an edge in digs (66-59). But Michigan could not overcome its errors — eight service errors and zero aces in game two, and 15 service errors overall.
“We were trying to pinpoint our serves more than anything, to go after the libero,” senior Lisa Gamalski said. “That kind of hurt us because we were worried about where we were going to serve rather than putting (the ball) in aggressively.”
The Wolverines could not side out consistently in game one against the Longhorns. Despite a 6-0 run that brought Michigan within four at 18-14, the Longhorns cruised to an easy 30-19 victory.
Game two was much closer. Texas jumped on Michigan early for a second straight game and held a six- point lead, 22-16. The Wolverines then went on a 7-1 run to tie the game. Michigan had a chance to serve for its first lead of the match but put the serve into the net. The teams continued going back and forth, but the Wolverines committed another service error late in the game and lost momentum, dropping game two 30-27.
“I’m proud of how our team played,” Rosen said. “Our kids came in and played hard. They were down 2-0 and fought to get back into the match.”
The weekend started on a good note Friday night when Michigan went head-to-head against Rice in the first round.
The Wolverines looked sluggish in the first two games, which they split with the Owls. Then Michigan turned on the afterburners and rolled over Rice 30-23 in game three thanks to an efficient .704 attack percentage and five of their 15 blocks.
Michigan got off to a strong start in the fourth and deciding game. Rice came within one at 15-14 but trailed the rest of the game. The Wolverines’ final two points were tallied by Cobler — a kill and a service ace — improving Michigan’s first-round record to 5-1 and setting themselves up for a second round match-up against Texas.
“(Rice) is real hard to play,” Rosen said. “I felt for the girls. The first two games (we played) tight. The third and forth game we came out and played real well.”
The nervousness of such a big game didn’t seem to affect Bruzdzinski and Gandolph. Bruzdzinski led the team with a career-high 24 kills, while Gandolph tallied 17.
“(Katie is) fearless, and I love that about her,” Gamalski said. “And that’s how she plays … They both played amazing that night.”
With the loss to Texas, Michigan finished the season 20-13 — only the second time in school history the team has had back-to-back 20-win seasons. The last time was in 1980-81.