All season long, the Michigan volleyball team has talked about going through the Big Ten season differently than last year’s downhill finish. But after losing four of the last five games, 2012 is looking eerily similar to 2011.
In arguably the strongest conference in the country, the Wolverines went on the road for their fourth straight game, losing to Wisconsin in straight sets 20-25, 18-25, 20-25 in Madison on Sunday.
“I really didn’t think we played well at all,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “I didn’t feel that we represented our abilities in any way at all today. It certainly was not a match that I felt we performed near close to our level and that’s frustrating. It’s not just on the players, but on us as coaches too.”
The Wolverines (2-4 Big Ten, 14-6 overall) were out hit 15-10 in the first set, struggling to accumulate more than 13 in a set.
Neither team was able to swing momentum in their favor to begin the first set, but with Michigan ahead, 11-10, Wisconsin went on a 4-0 run. The Wolverines rallied to take a 16-15 lead on a kill from junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross, and returned to the back-and-forth play. Tied at 19, the Badgers (2-4 Big Ten, 14-5 overall) went on a 5-0 run to put the set out of reach.
Cross had a team-high 10 kills on the day, and was the only player to reach double-digit kills for Michigan. One of the few upperclassmen to play through last season, Cross too, emphasized her team’s frustration.
“We just need to figure out a way to play our game,” Cross said. “We’ve been practicing really well, but it’s like we’re holding on to something. We need to play a little bit more free, play volleyball and have fun.”
Michigan fell behind 9-3 early in the second set, but fought back to tie the set at 11 on an ace from freshman outside hitter Kelly Murphy and a Wisconsin service error. The Badgers went on a 6-1 run, though, forcing the Wolverines to take a timeout with the score 17-12. Wisconsin slowly worked its way to a 23-16 lead — its largest margin for the set.
Michigan hit a meek .079 in the set while the Badgers ended with a strong .355.
Once again, the Badgers used an early lead to capture the final set, but never amounted more than a 3-0 run.
Trailing 4-1 at the beginning of the set, the Wolverines tied the game at 12, but Wisconsin put together another run to move ahead 20-14 — its largest lead of the game — before coasting to victory.
“I don’t think they’re going in not wanting to play well,” Rosen said. “I didn’t think we let ourselves play tonight on either side of the ball. We have to continue to set extremely high standards and that our players are preforming at the level, but we have to execute in matches.”
The Wolverines struggled defensively on Sunday, a trend in many games this season, totaling just six team blocks and 38 digs. They had 58 in Wednesday’s loss against Minnesota.
Sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller led the team with 27 assists while freshman libero Tiffany Morales led the team with 12 digs.
Rosen was adamant that his team, including coaches, needed to regroup at the beginning of the season, but refused to blame tough competition for the recent trend.
“I never try and compare year to year,” Rosen said. “We’re playing good teams and the Big Ten is full of good teams, but we expect to be one of those good teams. It’s not going to get any easier so it can’t be an excuse.”