Michigan women’s volleyball coach Mark Rosen celebrated his 50th birthday this past week. When he blew out his candles, he wished for a healthy team and back-to-back home conference wins this weekend. Unfortunately, neither wish came true.
Michigan 3, Indiana 0
Michigan 0, Nebraska 3
The 17th-ranked Wolverines (2-2 Big Ten, 14-2 overall) split the weekend playing without senior outside hitter Alex Hunt, who was out with a shoulder injury. With sophomore outside hitter Molly Toon in Hunt’s place, Michigan blanked Iowa in three sets on Friday night and fell to No. 7 Nebraska in three the following evening.
It’s pure speculation to say that the results would have been different if Hunt was healthy, but it’s clear that the void left by the All-American was hard to fill.
Against the Cornhuskers, the Wolverines looked to senior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher and sophomore outside hitter Lexi Erwin. Both players racked up kills in the double digits, but that wasn’t the deciding factor in the game.
Nebraska and their forceful front line blocked twice as many attempts as Michigan and forced the Wolverines to make twice as many errors — much like the 3-0 set loss to Purdue did a week ago.
The Boilermakers share many characteristics with the Cornhuskers. They are aggressive teams, quick in the air and fantastic blockers. What sets Nebraska apart, however, is that it has have the longest front line Michigan has seen this season — each player is taller than 6-foot-3.
“Nebraska is a much taller team, so that means they can hit at sharper angles and go over blocks,” said senior libero Sloane Donhoff. “It is a lot harder to dig against a team like that when they are physical, can hit around the block, and essentially pick their shots.”
Fletcher, although frustrated with the loss, does not attribute the Cornhusker victory to the team’s size alone.
“I mean, I’m 6-foot-4 too,” Fletcher said. “I play against (sophomore middle blocker) Jen (Cross) everyday, so it’s not this new thing. The Big Ten has big girls. As far as I’m concerned, it was just another team on the opposite side of the net.
“Our attacking and putting the ball away is where we lacked tonight, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to blow up or freak out on Monday and change everything. The things that are working we’re going to keep them there, and the things we need to work on we’re going to get a little better on every day.”
Michigan had one less kill than Nebraska in the total count, but with the disparities in the error and block columns, the Wolverines really had to step up their kills and put more balls away. No one would have done that better than Hunt.
Instead of focusing on what could have been, Rosen took this game in stride as yet another learning opportunity for his constantly improving team.
“We have to be more consistent as a team,” Rosen said. “That was the separation between us and Nebraska tonight. Sure, some of their players were a little more physical than ours, but really it came down to being able to execute consistently. We would have times that we were hitting really well, and others that we weren’t.
“We’ve now seen the bar. That’s where we have to be by the end of the season. I’m confident we can compete at that top level.”