It’s been a season full of ups and downs for the Michigan volleyball team.

After winning 14 of its first 16 matches — the best start in school history — Michigan lost six of its next seven while struggling to a disappointing 9-11 Big Ten record, including being swept by No. 8 Ohio State and No. 4 Penn State this weekend to end the regular season.

But last night, the Wolverines were rewarded for the high points when they received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Michigan (19-12) will travel to Austin, Texas, to face Rice in the first round of the Green Bay regional on Friday. It’s the Wolverines’ third-straight bid to the tournament, and their fifth in the last six seasons.

“Even though we didn’t finish as strong as we’d like to, we play against some of the best teams in the country,” said senior Alicia Boswell after the loss to Penn State.

“I am confident that we can compete with any top-10 team in the nation. I have no doubt that we can be successful.”

Michigan coach Mark Rosen credits his team’s 3-0 win at Northwestern a week ago for securing its tournament berth, stressing that it was a win Michigan had to have to be competitive in an elite conference.

Seven Big Ten teams received bids to the tournament — including four among the top 16 seeds — tied with the Big 12 for the most participants. Rosen believes the Big Ten was stronger this season than it had been in any of the six years he has coached the Wolverines and expects that high level of competition to help Michigan against an inexperienced Owl team.

“It’s the first time in the NCAA tournament for Rice,” Rosen said. “I’m sure they will be prepared to play well, but sometimes teams in that situation are just happy to be there.”

After finishing with its best record in 20 years, Rice (25-4) lost to Nevada in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Even though the Owls play in a weaker conference, they took then-No. 1 Minnesota to five games in a 3-2 loss in September.

Rosen recognizes it will not be easy for Michigan to win the match.

“Our No. 1 goal now is just to advance,” Rosen said. “It’s not about playing our best volleyball — at this point in the season, it doesn’t matter if we win ugly. Now it’s about competing well and moving on.”

The winner of the Michigan-Rice match will take on either Texas State or No. 6-seed Texas on Saturday. But the Wolverines won’t be content with just a road trip to Texas.

“I would like to see us playing in two weeks, not just next weekend in round one and two,” senior Sarah Allen said. “I think we have the potential to take this team where it hasn’t been before. We’re ready to take the next step.”

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