The word on the lips of every Michigan volleyball player Saturday night heartbreaker. There was no other way to describe the 3-2 loss to No. 21 Illinois, a defeat that all but eliminated Michigan (9-11 Big Ten, 13-14 overall) from making their third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. After taking a two-games to-none lead on the Fighting Illini, the Wolverines were unable to seal the deal.
“This match defines heartbreaker,” Katrina Lehman said.
The match started out very well for Michigan. The Wolverines dominated the first game, handing Illinois a 30-23 loss. Erin Moore and Carrie Ritchie who had seven and six kills respectively, led Michigan offensively. Defensively, Moore added four digs to lead the team, but the story was Lehman”s four block assists in the first game.
Entering the match, Lehman needed only five block assists to break the Michigan single-season record of 115. Last season, Lehman tied the mark set by Lindsay Ebert in 1997.
Lehman needed only two block assists to break the record going into the second game. She not only got them, but she also added four kills to help the Wolverines down the Illini 30-28. Illinois grabbed an early 4-1 lead, but the Wolverines tied the game at nine behind the serving of Moore. With the game knotted at 27 the Wolverines turned to their freshman outside hitter Jennifer Gandolph,, who responded, scoring the final three kills to win game two 30-28.
This would prove to be the last game Michigan would win this season.
“I don”t know what happened, I think that slowly by slowly we broke down and they got stronger,” Lehman said.
After the intermission, Illinois came out better on defense, but it was Michigan”s errors that allowed the Illini to steal game three. Illinois only recorded 11 kills in game three, but Michigan gave the Illini 15 points on attack errors. Winning the game 30-25 gave Illinois momentum it desperately needed, but it was the next game that proved to be the backbreaker for Michigan.
Game four saw the Illini finally find their offensive rhythm. Relying heavily on its 6-foot-5 middle blocker, Lisa Argabright, Illinois overpowered the smaller Michigan squad. Argabright led the Illini with seven kills in game four. The Illini took a 27-22 lead late in the game. Michigan used all its emotion to mount an incredible comeback. After tying the game at 28, Michigan had the momentum, but neither team was able to score the two consecutive points needed to win. Finally, the Illini proved too much for the Wolverines as Illinois won game four 34-32.
Errors also plagued the Wolverines in the fifth game. Eight Michigan errors gave the Illini more than half the points they needed to win 15-9.
Friday”s match commemorated senior night Nicole Kacor, Annie Maxwell and Shannon Melka played in their final match with the Wolverines. While this was the end for the three, they know the team is in good hands.
“I know this program has nothing to do but go up and increase our winning record,” Melka said. “They are going to do awesome next year, I know.”