In a season of ups and downs, a young Michigan volleyball team proved last Saturday what it is capable of accomplishing. Spirits were high after an impressive win over No. 7 Wisconsin (8-2 Big Ten, 16-3 overall), the highest-ranked opponent that Michigan has defeated this year.
Yet, as the second half of the Big Ten season approaches, Michigan (4-6, 10-9) knows that there is still a lot of work to do. The Wolverines’ performance in the team’s final 10 games will ultimately determine whether they will participate in the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. An overall winning record is necessary to qualify for the postseason.
“Because there is no Big Ten tournament, our backs are really against the wall,” coach Mark Rosen said. “Anything less than going six and four in our remaining 10 games will put things in doubt.”
Prior to the Wisconsin game, the Wolverines scored an impressive win on Sept. 21 in their Big Ten opener on the road against rival Michigan State. The team then improved to 9-5 before dropping four straight three-game matches.
“We really stagnated and can’t afford that,” Rosen said. “We are young, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse. We have to keep getting better every day.”
A record close to .500 may not be what the Wolverines hoped for, but six of their nine losses have come against ranked opponents.
“The tough schedule was a good thing, because those are the same types of teams we will face in the postseason,” freshman Elizabeth Raschke said.
The team’s lack of experience has hindered Michigan thus far. Middle blocker Candace Gay and defensive specialist Megan Knoebel are the only seniors on a team that graduated four players last year – all-Big Ten performer Lisa Gamalski, team captain Sarah Allen, Alicia Boswell and Jennifer Gandolph, who is Michigan’s all-time leader in kills and digs.
“Youth has been a big obstacle to overcome,” Rosen said. “For people to learn how to lead in their own way is difficult.”
With each practice and game, the team gains experience, and wins – such as the one over Wisconsin – bolster confidence.
“Last Saturday, everything finally clicked together,” junior Erin Cobler said.
In addition to picking up a needed win, the Wisconsin game showed Rosen a style of play that proved the team’s level of determination. In a normal game, the winning team can expect seven to nine kills. In the fifth game of Saturday’s match, the Wolverines had 13 kills.
“To get 13 (kills), it showed how well the team was playing,” Rosen said. “We flat out won the game on kills, which says a lot about how we approached the match.”
Said Raschke: “We’ve been trying to gel and find chemistry. This match really did that for us.”
The team hopes to continue the momentum starting Friday night at Purdue, who defeated the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Oct. 8.
“We can never feel comfortable with where we are,” Cobler said. “We must keep progressing and continue to work hard every day.”