Despite falling behind in the second and third games of Friday
night’s match, the Michigan volleyball team regained its
focus and fought back against a weaker team, defeating Northwestern
(2-8 Big Ten, 7-13 overall) by a score of 3-0.

But against a solid Wisconsin team on Saturday, Michigan beat
itself.

With the match tied at one, Michigan (5-5, 15-6) took control of
game three early, with the steady play of seniors Jennifer Gandolph
and Lisa Gamalski leading to a 12-8 advantage. But the Wolverines
couldn’t hold onto their lead, allowing Wisconsin three
streaks of three or more points on its way to a 30-23 win.

In a reverse of game three, Michigan fell behind at the start of
the fourth game, before Gandolph propelled the team within one,
16-15. Gandolph led the Wolverines with her seventh double-double
of the season, recording 14 kills and 19 digs.

Then Michigan fell apart.

“Game four we broke down,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen
said. “We just kind of spiraled out of control. We had a
chance to fight back in and force a game five and then we just
didn’t take care of it.”

The Badgers took advantage of the Wolverines’ collapse,
scoring the final seven points to win game four, 30-20, and the
match, 3-1.

But Michigan can compete with a good team like Wisconsin at
times. After dropping a close first game, 31-29, the Wolverines
were flat at the start of game two, allowing the Badgers to take a
4-0 lead. Sophomore Erin Cobler then had two strong kills to awaken
Michigan, which traded points with Wisconsin until the middle of
the game.

At this point, the Wolverines’ streaky play returned. The
Badgers went on a 6-0 run to take a commanding 19-12 lead. But like
the night before, Michigan bounced back, with Cobler and sophomores
Danielle Pflum and Megan Bowman recording five kills and a decisive
block to tie the game at 21. The Wolverines went on to win the
back-and-forth game, 34-32.

“We’ll be unstoppable for one point, and then the
next point we just fall apart,” Cobler said. “I think
we’re playing a lot of mental games with ourselves right now.
I think that we have the talent and skill to be unstoppable, but
we’re just kind of holding ourselves back.”

It’s not that Wisconsin (7-3, 13-5) played that much
better — it recorded six fewer blocks than its season
average, while committing six more attack errors. And in the middle
of game three, the Badgers were audibly telling themselves to calm
down. But Wisconsin was able to limit the length of
Michigan’s runs and kept the score close when it wasn’t
playing well.

In order to assert itself as one of the elite teams in the Big
Ten, Michigan recognizes that it must be able to do the same.

“We can play with anybody for periods of time, but we
can’t do it past a certain point,” Rosen said.
“Against the lower teams we’re able to survive that,
but against the top teams we’re not. They’re not going
to wait around for us to be steady.”

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