The Michigan volleyball team can stand a little straighter now that it has the monkey off its back.
The Wolverines (15-4 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) returned to their winning ways this weekend with wins over Northwestern and Illinois after starting the Big Ten season 0-4.
“Certainly it’s hard when you start the Big Ten and you start down,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “Emotionally, it’s hard. It puts a lot of pressure on you. Every time things start to go bad, everybody gets a little nervous.”
Rosen admitted his team played that way Friday against Northwestern, but the Wolverines came through with a 30-28, 30-25, 30-28 sweep.
The Wolverines held a 29-20 lead in game two before the Wildcats rallied to pull the game within four. Then Rosen subbed freshman Veronica Rood for middle blocker Megan Bowman and slid junior Lyndsay Miller from the outside to the middle to allow Rood to play on the outside.
“Rood is a very offensive player,” Rosen said. “She can get up and bang it high. . (Bowman) is more of a defensive, blocking middle. Then we can throw Rood in and now we’ve got two really good offensive players. It injects offense into our lineup if we feel we have to get a little more offense.”
The move paid off. Northwestern couldn’t locate the 6-foot-2 Miller, and, on the next play, she got a kill to clinch the game.
Fifth-year senior Erin Penn had two kills, separated by a Northwestern timeout, to break a 28-28 deadlock in the third game and put the Wolverines into the win column in the Big Ten standings.
Michigan diversified its attack over the weekend. Beth Karpiak celebrated her 20th-birthday weekend by tying for second on the team in kills in both matches. She repeatedly spiked balls to the court against a relatively unathletic Northwestern team, finishing with 14. She followed that up with 13 kills against the Illini. She totaled just 10 last weekend when Michigan was swept by Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“We need that,” Rosen said. “It’s something we’ve been working on this week, last weekend, the last two or three weeks, getting her more involved in the offense. I thought she really responded well. It’s going to free up our hitters a lot more, and it’s going to not allow other teams to fully commit on our outside. I was very pleased.”
Michigan won the first two games against Illinois on Sunday in strong form (30-24, 30-26), but fell in game three (24-30).
“There is another team on the other side of the court and sometimes their level raises,” Rosen said. “In game three, they played awesome. It wasn’t just like we got bad, they also get hot. (If) a team gets hot, you’ve gotta ride that out a little bit.”
Rosen also said the Illini exploited a Michigan defensive weakness, but refused to identify it. But the Wolverines adjusted in game four for a 30-23 win, sealing a much-needed two-win weekend.