Michigan – 2
Northwestern – 3
For the first time in this shaky Big Ten season, Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen sounded frustrated.
“We didn’t compete well when the match was in the balance,” Rosen said of the Wolverines’ 3-2 loss to Northwestern on Saturday night. “Right in game five, when we were in position to win it, we didn’t take care of things on our side of the court. I don’t think Northwestern did anything phenomenal. They did enough to put us in a position to have to make plays, and then we didn’t make them.”
Michigan held a 9-5 lead in the fifth and deciding match at Welsh-Ryan Arena. But the Wolverines couldn’t break out of a bad habit that has plagued them since they started the year 13-0 – not finishing.
Northwestern rallied to take the lead 11-10, putting Michigan on its heels and forcing the Wolverines to burn two timeouts in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Michigan stopped the onslaught momentarily, tying the game at 11. But the Wildcats notched three straight points to defeat Michigan (4-8 Big Ten, 17-8 overall). The loss rounded out a weekend split for the Wolverines , in which they defeated Illinois in a three-game sweep on Friday.
Following the loss, Rosen seemed disheartened. But he was quick to point out where his team needed to improve on.
“Our offense broke down, but a lot of it had to do with we couldn’t get four or five players to be consistent. We had three players consistent,” Rosen said. “But we needed a couple more positions to step up and be more involved, and we couldn’t do that.”
Three players – junior captains Lyndsay Miller and Katie Bruzdzinski and sophomore Beth Karpiak – carried the Wolverines’ offense.
Miller led the team with 18 kills – including four during the team’s 9-5 run to start the fifth game – and garnered a career-high four service aces. Bruzdzinski added 17 kills, five service aces, 16 digs and three blocks of her own. Karpiak rounded out the trio with 15 kills and six blocks.
Rosen praised the three Wolverines and also gave credit to junior Stesha Selsky and freshman Megan Bower for helping out the team in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“Those kids are doing a pretty good job,” Rosen said. “But the problem is, that’s five kids and we have seven positions.”
The injury to senior Megan Bowman hasn’t helped matters, but this weekend, despite being less than 100 percent, Bowman was a major contributor to Michigan’s game four win against Northwestern (5-7, 11-10).
“At best she’s probably 75 percent, and the unfortunate thing is we had to put her in tonight in order to give ourselves a chance to compete,” Rosen said. “We wouldn’t have been in game five if we hadn’t won game four. And we wouldn’t have won game four if Megan Bowman doesn’t step out on the floor and make us better.”
That still leaves the Wolverines playing with, at best, five-and-a-half consistent players for seven positions. With just eight games left, Michigan doesn’t have a lot of time to improve its play.
On Friday night, the team got off on the right foot with a three game sweep of Illinois in Champaign. Bruzdzinski led the team in kills this time, recording 17 of them against the Illini (4-8, 13-9).
In game one, Bruzdzinski took control by hitting eight kills, one service ace and three digs. Her teammate, Miller, ended an exciting game with back-to-back kills to give the Wolverines a 34-32 win. Michigan never looked back.
The Wolverines are currently tied with Illinois for eighth place in the conference. Since 1997, the Big Ten conference has sent at least six teams to the NCAA tournament.
“We can’t particularly protect our team from the reality of pressure,” said Rosen of whether or not the team is pressing too much to reach the postseason. “Pressure comes with competing at this level. You have to be able to handle the moments that come at a high level of competition.”