It started with Megan Bowman. Then Mara Martin. And Katie Bruzdzinski.
The offense never stopped for Michigan (3-3 Big Ten, 9-6 overall) against Illinois last week, when the team had a .400 hitting percentage and recorded 12 service aces – the most by the Wolverines since they tallied 13 more than six years ago.
But on a team that had been averaging a .245 hitting percentage, where did all the offense come from?
“We were firing on all cylinders that night,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “We had very good balance to our offense – lots of people were contributing.”
An unlikely source, Bowman, sparked the offensive onslaught. Bowman, a junior known better for her blocking skills – she ranks sixth all time for Michigan with 346 rejections – jumped out early in the first game with two kills.
“It’s been a point of frustration for her and for our setter,” Rosen said. “And we worked a lot last week with her offensively. And she came out – very first point of the game – and Mara set her on the quick attack, and she just got up and ripped it. Everybody got excited because they know how hard we’ve been working on it. All day long she was unstoppable.
But it wasn’t just a balanced offensive attack that allowed Michigan to sweep Illinois. Prior to the match, the Wolverines had been averaging 1.33 service aces per game – good for ninth in the Big Ten. Against the Illini, they had 12 over three games. Freshman Martin had four of the service aces.
“We’ve been working a lot with her on being a more attacking setter,” Rosen said. “Normally her job is to tip over the ball to other players, but it can be very helpful to our offense if she is an attacker as well. She doesn’t necessarily like to do it, but she knows it’s important and we work a lot in practice.”
Said Martin: “I just was able to run my offense. We had really good passing, hitting the ball away, so it just made my job really easy. Everyone played really well so it made me play well too.”
Four out of seven starters on the Wolverines are underclassmen. With youth comes inconsistency, which is evident in Michigan’s record. The last two weekends, the Wolverines have won big on Friday (at Iowa and Illinois), only to lose Saturday (at Minnesota and Purdue).
“We all feel like we’ve got a pretty offensive team,” Rosen said. “When it starts clicking, we can get pretty good. Our problem is just being so young- especially at the setting position – it hasn’t been as consistent as anyone would like. But that’s part of the process of development and growing.”
Rosen has been working with the younger players like Martin in practice not only on offense, but also on defense. He hopes the extra focus will translate into winning on the court.
“It’s kind of fun to see how hard the girls are working through the week, and nobody else sees that, just the people that are with the team,” Rosen said.
Junior Danielle Pflum was injured against Illinois, forcing the coaches to switch up the roster in preparation for No. 4 Penn State this Friday and No. 19 Ohio State on Saturday.
“We’ve been pretty comfortable with the lineup we’ve had for the last month, but now we’ve got to shuffle it a little bit,” Rosen said.
The team will look for the return of the high-powered offense against Penn State and Ohio State. Five out of six of Michigan’s losses have come to teams that were or are ranked in the top 25.
“They’re both very good teams, and we’ll have to have long rallies – just being able to put the ball where we need to and keep playing, knowing we’re gonna have to take two or three swings to win the point,” sophomore Lyndsay Miller said.