While he looked at the stat sheet, Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen was pleased to see one number: three. Freshman Veronica Rood had three less kills than the previous game.
Rosen isn’t promoting a new defeatist philosophy, but he’s teaching smart play, something Rood took to heart during Michigan’s three-game sweep (30-27, 30-21, 30-19) of Iowa Friday night.
Last Wednesday night, Rood couldn’t stay away from the net. Overall she tallied 31 attack attempts, good for second on the team. And while she notched 13 kills, she was guilty of eight errors, giving her an abysmal .161 hitting percentage.
Rosen said that after Wednesday, he and Rood worked at practice on cutting down the amount of errors by taking less chances and just keeping the ball in play. The strategy may parlay into fewer kills, but as Rood demonstrated against the Hawkeyes, the hitting percentage can jump dramatically. On Friday, Rood had just two errors and a hitting percentage of .381.
“I really didn’t do anything different,” Rood said. “I just went out and played volleyball. I focused on keeping balls in play today, instead of just going up and swinging away at it.”
Rood and her teammates needed a more controlled style against Iowa (1-6 Big Ten, 12-7 overall). The Hawkeyes were a shifty team compared to the Wolverines’ previous opponent, the big-banging Spartans.
Rosen said Iowa uses more offspeed serves and tips and likes to pick the floor apart, allowing the team to exploit holes and seams in the defense. During the opening game of the match, Michigan clearly looked out of place trying to get into its groove, seeming too tentative off the serves and hitting just .241.
But that didn’t last long. By the third game of the match Michigan hit an impressive .488 and committed just two errors. And even when things looked bleak for the Wolverines, they found a way to win a point.
Leading 21-10 in the third frame, freshman Megan Bower dug an Iowa attack and the ball went straight into the net. The rally looked just about over, but sophomore Mara Martin got under the ball just as it came off the net and set it to junior Lyndsay Miller, who tipped the ball back toward the Hawkeye side of the court. It fell harmlessly between a number of Iowa players.
“It’s hard to defend until you get into the flow of (things), and if you get frustrated it stays hard to defend,” Rosen said. “But our kids figured (the Hawkeyes) out and they did a really good job at turning it against them a little bit.”
The third game of the match may also have been a watershed moment for a team that has struggled with finishing games during the Big Ten season.
In three of their losses this season, the Wolverines (3-5, 16-5) have had a chance to put teams away and have failed to do so each time. During its first loss of the season, Michigan led 11-6 in game four, leading 2-1 in the match, but failed to knock out Indiana. Against Purdue, the Wolverines stormed out of the gate, 9-5, in the fifth and final game, but lost the frame, 15-10. At Minnesota, Michigan held five-point leads midway through the first and second games, but botched both of them en route to a three-game sweep.
But things were different on Friday, and Rosen was visibly pleased with the performance.
“Once we got into that flow our kids really went after it,” Rosen said. “We’ve been talking a lot in practice that if you have a chance to jump on somebody pretty good we want you to jump on them. I thought in game two . we had a pretty good lead and we sat back for a few plays. (Then) we called a timeout (and) we talked about that, and after we came out we got on them pretty good.”