Michigan’s record is the tale of two seasons: 4-5 on the road, 4-0 at home.
A tough split this past weekend on the road, including a win against Iowa and a loss to No. 9 Minnesota, sums up the volleyball team’s season thus far – inconsistency on the road but strong play in Ann Arbor.
Michigan (2-2 Big Ten, 8-5 overall) hasn’t played at home since Sept.. 13, and it’s no secret that coach Mark Rosen and his team are just happy to play in Cliff Keen Arena again this Friday against Illinois and Purdue on Saturday.
“It means everything,” Rosen said. “We love playing no matter where we play, and obviously we’ve played in some pretty great places, but it’s just so nice to be home.”
Because of the physical and mental toll a long road trip takes on the team, the Wolverines are eager to return to the atmosphere at Cliff Keen.
“It’s so great to have fans cheering with you instead of against you,” junior Erin Cobler said. “We’re so excited to be home.”
Although the team approaches every game the same, whether home or away, it’s just easier to play in a comfortable environment.
Said Rosen: “I don’t think we approach it any differently. I don’t look at it and say, ‘Gosh, our team can’t play on the road.’ We never talk about those things, but deep down, in general, people are going to play better at home.”
But even though Michigan returns home this weekend, the Wolverines won’t be met by easy competition. Illinois has beaten Michigan six of the last 10 times the two teams have met. And while Michigan has had the upper hand on No. 22 Purdue recently, winning four straight, the Wolverines can’t afford to overlook a team that swept Northwestern 3-0 last weekend.
“From a competitive standpoint, this weekend is obviously a big weekend for us,” Rosen said. “These are two teams that are like us – striving to move up and into that upper echelon of the conference.”
But the team isn’t concentrating on the competition. Instead, the Wolverines are looking to improve their own play on the court.
“We don’t like to focus as much on the opponent because it’s usually the mistakes in our game that make the difference,” sophomore Lyndsay Miller said.
And the difference the Wolverines are emphasizing is the bottom line – winning.
“We always want to get wins,” Cobler said. “It’s not enough anymore to play good against good teams,”
Illinois (1-3, 10-5) is one of those good teams, but has recently suffered the opposite woes of the Wolverines. After stunning No. 18 Ohio State 3-2 in Columbus, the Illini lost two consecutive home games to Northwestern and No. 8 Wisconsin. Michigan hopes to extend that losing streak for the Illini with a big home win.
Since sophomore Katie Bruzdzinski is still not at 100 percent after spraining her ankle against Iowa, the offense might not be at full strength for the games. She played through injury on Saturday to earn five kills for the Wolverines. This season, Bruzdzinski had been averaging 14 kills a match.
“Hopefully by Friday she won’t be inhibited by it,” Rosen said. “It wasn’t a major sprain, but it’s something that’s going to be kind of nagging. Even if it takes 10 percent off her game, it limits what she can do. We’re going to get her back as soon as possible but, at the same time, give her the time to heal.”
With the possibility of Bruzdzinski out of the lineup, the Wolverines hope to use their homecourt advantage to rack up wins this weekend before facing two top-25 teams – No. 4 Penn State and Ohio State – on the road next weekend.
“The matches you have at home are important,” Rosen said. “I think our girls understand how important it is, and they’re all excited about it. At the same time, we know it’s a big task in front of us to play back-to-back nights and make sure we take care of both of them.”