Corrections: A story in yesterday’s edition of the Daily (As seen on TV: Spikers swept away) incorrectly stated that the Wolverines’ effort was highlighted by a strong debut by 6-foot-5 sophomore middle blocker Rachel Draves. It should have said 6-foot-5 sophomore middle blocker Sarah Draves.
COLUMBUS – In order to win an evenly matched contest, one team must find a competitive edge. This can be achieved by many means, but it is most efficient to exploit the other team’s mistakes. This weekend, the sharp play of No. 4 Penn State and No. 18 Ohio State blunted the edge of the Michigan women’s volleyball team.
In a nationally televised contest, the Wolverines (3-6 Big Ten, 9-9 overall) were unable to manufacture an upset at Rec Hall in State College to celebrate coach Mark Rosen’s 450th career match. Penn State (8-0, 17-2) lived up to its top billing on Friday night to remain undefeated in conference play.
“Obviously they’re a tough team,” Rosen said. “We had to shuffle our squad up because one of our key players got injured last week, but our performance was only reasonably acceptable.”
Although sophomore Katie Bruzdzinski had another strong showing – recording a team-leading total of 15 kills and 11 digs to tally the 15th double-double of her career – Penn State was able to limit its mistakes around the net to keep the Wolverines at a safe distance for all three games. The Nittany Lions swept the match 3-0, finishing each game with at least a seven-point advantage – 30-23, 30-15, 30-23.
The Wolverines then headed to Columbus for a showdown with Ohio State Saturday night. All three games were within Michigan’s clutches, but the Wolverines were again unable to maintain their edge when each game reached its decisive climax.
The Buckeyes channeled the energy of that afternoon’s rousing homecoming football victory over Michigan State to put on an impressive performance for an enthusiastic home crowd.
This home-court advantage may have been a crucial factor, as the fans became heavily involved at key points of the match that ensued.
The Wolverines’ effort was highlighted by a strong debut by 6-foot-5 sophomore middle blocker Sarah Draves. Draves took advantage of her expanded role en route to a career-high 10 kills, but the Wolverines were unable to score when the games were on the line.
“We played well at times, but we didn’t compete well,” Rosen said. “There’s a difference between playing well and competing well. We did enough to put ourselves in a position to win the match, but, when it really counted, we couldn’t put it away.”
The score in the first game was knotted 20 times, with the Wolverines holding a late 22-20 lead, but they soon found themselves down 28-27. The Buckeyes took the game with two consecutive points for a 30-27 victory.
“We’ve been showing that we are able to play at the level of good teams,” redshirt junior Erin Cobler said. “It’s one thing to play with them, and it’s another to be able to beat them.”
All but one of Michigan’s losses this season have come against top-25 teams.
In the second game, the Wolverines battled back from a nine-point deficit to take a late 27-26 lead on a charge led by Bruzdzinski and sophomore Lindsay Miller. The Buckeyes tied it up at 27 and sealed the match victory with three straight points to win the game 30-27.
“Getting on the doorstep’s not good enough,” Rosen said. “We’ve got to get our foot through the door.”
With the match already out of hand, the Wolverines knocked down the door to start the third and final game. Draves contributed three kills to help Michigan build an imposing 19-11 lead, but the Buckeyes refused to be intimidated. Ohio State pushed its game into high gear after the Wolverines took a 29-26 lead, one point away from avoiding the sweep. Michigan proved unable to seal the deal, and the Buckeyes snatched a 30-29 lead with four straight points. Miller came through with a clutch kill to tie the game at 30, but was unable to keep the Buckeyes’ broom out of the closet. Ohio State finished its comeback, taking the next two points to ensure its match sweep with a 32-30 win.
“A good competitive team won’t let the game slip away in that situation,” Rosen said. “We’ve got to take a look in the mirror, coaches and players alike, and decide what direction we want to go because we just aren’t competing at a high level. We’re good enough to beat these teams, but we’re not doing it. It’s a mental block, and we need some better leadership to overcome it. It’s disappointing if nothing else.”