With the 2004 season in the books, the Michigan volleyball team can’t help but look back and smile at the last four months. With team chemistry as high as it has been in quite a while, it’s easy for the players to see the good in their otherwise-dismal season.
The Wolverines, who received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, were knocked out in the second round by No. 11 Texas. This marked the third straight year that Michigan has not made it past the second round of the tournament.
“This year, I think we were as good or better of a team than Texas,” coach Mark Rosen said. “And I think we had a chance to win that match and it felt like we were very competitive in that match. I am very confident that this team will get passed this point next year.”
Fifth-year senior captain Lisa Gamalski recognizes the team’s postseason struggles as well and feels it’s all about players’ state of mind.
“We are definitely capable of playing good teams, and it is just a matter of truly believing in it. And that’s something that we have all of the physical talent and it’s just the mental aspect of our team that needs to change,” Gamalski said. “It is that mental hurdle. We don’t just need to be able to play with ranked opponents, but we need to beat them.”
With a 20-13 overall record (9-11 Big Ten), this team’s accomplishments fell short of its expectations. One of the team’s early defining moments came in its four-set victory against American University at the Manhattan College Invitational in Riverside, N.Y., on Sept. 4. After American won the first set, Michigan grouped together and won the next three sets to take the match. The team’s ability to remain composed and recover from a tough game proved vital later on in its season.
“We knew that we were going to be a young team so expectation-wise,” Rosen said. “I don’t know that we really had a definitive win-loss expectation. The thing that we were most surprised and excited about was how large of an impact that the freshmen made. We had three freshmen starting throughout the year, so we had a very young team on the floor. And I thought we continued to improve throughout the year.”
The impact of the freshmen proved to be especially crucial during the team’s road win against Purdue on Oct. 1, a game that stands out in many of the players’ minds. Fifth-year senior captain Sarah Allen went down with an injury in the beginning of the match. With the team down two sets, freshmen Katie Bruzdzinski, Stesha Selsky and Lyndsay Miller stepped up under the leadership of Gamalski. The team rallied back to clinch the victory by winning the final three sets in dominating fashion.
“It felt like I had won the NCAA Tournament,” Gamalski said. “It was awesome to come back from 2-0 and then win — just awesome.”
Said Allen: “I think that said a lot about our team because our backs were against the wall and we were playing in a very hostile environment and it was a must-win for us.”
Gamalski couldn’t hold back her tears as she reminisced about senior night at Cliff Keen Arena, when the gym reached its 1,800-person capacity and the fire marshal was forced to turn fans away.
“I guess the biggest thing for me was all of the fans that I have acquired and all of the little girls that come in, even after a loss,” Gamalski said. “They just adore the volleyball players. They once waited for a half-an-hour after we got yelled at by our coach just to get their shirts signed.”
It’s hard to look back over the season and not notice the increased interest in the volleyball team around campus. Gamalski and Allen find it hard to believe that when they first arrived in Ann Arbor five years ago, the team had trouble filling Cliff Keen for home games. This season, the roaring Cliff Keen crowds bolstered team’s confidence on a regular basis.
Allen was able to follow in the athletic tradition of her mother and father, former basketball and football players, respectively.
“I think about just putting on a uniform for the first time and I was so excited to wear the block ‘M’ and it was something that I have always wanted to do — to be able to play to Michigan,” Allen said. “It was the first time I had ever put on a uniform and known it was where I wanted to be.”
The Michigan block ‘M’ holds a special significance for Gamalski as well.
“I am going to miss everything that goes along with being a Michigan athlete,” Gamalski said. “I just don’t know what it is. It’s that stupid clich