The first loss is never easy, especially when the crowd knows you should beat the opponent.
After an undefeated non-conference season, No. 19 Michigan suffered its first two losses of the season, both long and gut-wrenching five-game defeats.
“It’s a tough lesson to learn, losing, but you’ve got to do it sometime,” junior captain Lyndsay Miller said.
The Big Ten opener against Indiana started well for the Wolverines. Rolling through game one with an attacking percentage of .344, the Wolverines were in control.
They continued their strong play early in game two, but after a couple of errors, Michigan allowed the Hoosiers to stay close. With the score 18-17 in Indiana’s favor, the Wolverines played strong defense, diving all over the court and continuing the longest rally of the night. The crowd grew hopeful, only to be downed by Hoosier sophomore Emily Zulauf’s emphatic kill. Indiana used the momentum to connect on key blocks, and capitalized on Michigan’s errors to take the game, 30-28.
Committing 16 errors in game two alone, the Wolverines’ mistakes made it tough on themselves to win. They would win the third game quickly, but lost the lead late in game four. Michigan was unable to recuperate in game five giving Indiana the victory (30-22, 28-30, 30-20, 28-30, 12-15).
“I thought we didn’t play exactly terribly, but we just didn’t play to get all the grimy points, and go after the little stuff,” senior Megan Bowman said. “And we need to take care of the little things, otherwise we’re not going to win many matches.”
Indiana head coach Katie Weismiller agreed: “I think little things helped us out, and when it was tied, we won the next point, and that was the difference. When we needed a point, we were able to get it tonight.”
The stat sheet doesn’t show these little things, proving that numbers aren’t everything. The Wolverines outplayed the Hoosiers on defense with 86 digs, and tallied 77 kills on the attack. But Michigan also led in attack and service errors (52 to 40) with 10 attack errors coming in game four.
“Looking at the box score, it confirms that we didn’t compete well tonight,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “There were times when we played well. But you play well, you compete well are two different things. I thought there were critical times in the match in three or four different situations where we didn’t compete well and take care of opportunities we had.”
Indiana’s blocking exploited the one-dimensional Michigan offense. With the majority of kills going to Miller and junior Katie Bruzdzinski, the Hoosiers (1-1 Big Ten, 10-4 overall) were able to predict where the next attack was heading. Combined with the Wolverines’ poor offensive attack in the fourth and fifth games (.094 and .077 respectively), their 14-game winning streak came to an end.
The weekend didn’t get any easier as No. 11 Purdue rolled into town Saturday night.
The Wolverines couldn’t hold on to a four-point lead in game five and allowed the Lady Boilermakers to go on a 10-1 run to close out the heart-breaking loss (30-25, 26-30, 26-30, 30-26, 10-15).
“You know, it hurts,” Rosen said. “You put it all out there. The girls put it out there tonight. It hurts.”
With an electric crowd behind them, the energetic Wolverines again came out strong. The defense won game one, limiting Purdue’s attack percentage to -.020. The offense was more diversified with Miller, sophomore Beth Karpiak and fifth-year senior captain Erin Penn all recording more than fifteen kills. Karpiak was most efficient, recording a career-high 17 kills in 29 attempts.
Purdue (2-0, 12-1) had complete performances from the entire team, using thirteen players in the contest. During the 10-1 Boilermaker run, freshman Carrie Gurnell gave three crushing blows to the Michigan defense to seal the win.
Overall, the numbers stack up evenly. From attacks, services and points, neither team had much of an advantage. But Michigan mustered a mere .042 attack percentage in the final game, its worst performance since Sept. 2 against Iowa State.
The team knows these derailments can’t happen if they want to win.
“I was really happy with the way we played, but we’ve got to close games out,” Rosen said. “There’s no moral victory in ‘We played better than last night. We were close.’ We’re here to win games, and we didn’t do that.”
Taking these games as learning opportunities, the Wolverines (0-2, 13-2) will look to improve on their slow start. During Rosen’s tenure as head coach, Michigan has been unable to take both matches of the Big Ten opening weekend.
Karpiak put it simply: “We’re going to get better.”