One hundred and eighty degrees. The complete and total change of direction is the only possible way to describe the early-season turnaround for the Michigan women’s volleyball team. After a supposedly ominous start that included three quick losses to No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 25 Long Beach State and No. 1 Nebraska, the Wolverines came back strong.
This weekend, the spikers put an exclamation point on their current hot streak by tacking on their fifth and sixth consecutive wins en route to capturing the title at the Georgia Invitational.
“We looked at it more how we performed each game rather than wins/losses,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “We’ve definitely gotten better throughout the season. We’ve been a little streaky (but) we’ve just been progressing. That’s part of being a young team is getting better all the time.”
In one of its most decisive wins of the season, the Wolverines rolled over Georgia Tech Saturday night in three one-sided games – 30-25, 30-16, 30-16. Michigan held the Yellow Jackets to an abysmal .019 hitting percentage while putting together a quality all-around performance of .347. Michigan came out looking a bit flat in the first game, but, after allowing Georgia Tech to amass a 14-18 advantage, the Wolverines turned the tables with a 13-3 run. Sophomore striker Katie Bruzdzinski spearheaded the offensive run with six first-game kills, giving her 17 total for the night.
“(Bruzdzinski) brought in a lot of experience, and we certainly expect that she’s going to be a big part of our team,” Rosen said. “She’s a very intense competitor an a very tough kid and really nothing Katie does surprises me nowadays because she’s pretty good.”
The Wolverines won the following two games in decisive fashion, finishing off Georgia Tech in straight sets. The triumph over the Yellow Jackets was derived from momentum carried over from the previous evening, despite a strenuous contest against Georgia.
Friday night’s match against the Bulldogs provided some impressive milestones for the Wolverines as they won in a five game grudge-match – 27-30, 30-25, 30-28, 26-30, 15-13. Bruzdzinski had a game-high 33 kills, giving her the second highest single game total in Michigan history. But it was sophomore setter Mara Martin who complemented Bruzdzinski’s superior accomplishment with one of her own. Martin became one of only three setters in Wolverines’ history to collect 80-plus assists in a single match. Martin’s total of 81 secures her spot as fourth all-time in single-match assists.
“Everything was just going well (Friday night),” Martin said. “It had nothing to do with me having a better game than other people, good defense from the team helped me out.”
The Wolverines now stand at 6-3, having won two different invitational tournaments this season. Now the toughest stretch of the season looms ahead as they begin their Big Ten schedule at Michigan State on Wednesday. But after winning six straight matches consecutively, Michigan hopes to continue their streak into conference play.
“I think it’s great momentum,” Bruzdzinski said. “When you (get wins) not at home you feel like you can beat pretty much whoever you’re on the court with. I think that’s a big part of it, is knowing that you can win.”