Entering Saturday night’s match against Arizona State, just two players on the Michigan volleyball roster had ever suffered a non-conference, regular season loss.
Seniors Beth Karpiak and Kerry Hance are the only remaining witnesses of Michigan’s 0-3 start in 2005.
The rest of the Wolverines weren’t about to let their perfection slip away.
No. 25 Michigan rounded out its pre-Big Ten competition Saturday night at Cliff Keen Arena with a 3-1 victory over the Sun Devils to clinch the Michigan/adidas Invitational title.
But the match was not without its rough spots, as the Wolverines dropped their third game of the season.
“The Pac 10 and the Big Ten are two very good conferences,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “I think that got us a little rattled because things that were kills earlier in the season, they just weren’t kills (Saturday).”
With the tougher competition, the Wolverines got off to a slow start in the second game, missing easy digs and making service errors before Rosen called a timeout with Michigan down 7-1.
“I told them that they better get used to this,” Rosen said. “We’re going to see teams like them, or much better than them, over the next 10 weeks.”
After the timeout, sophomore setter Lexi Zimmerman put the game on her shoulders as members of the student section, the Zone, made ‘Z’s’ with their hands behind her, a symbol more commonly seen for punter Zoltan Mesko. Waving Z’s and cheering, fans watched as Zimmerman and the Wolverines went on a 9-2 run to force Arizona State to call a timeout.
The teams traded the lead throughout the game. With the game tied 23-23, Arizona State made an apparent lift, but the error went uncalled, giving the Sun Devils the lead and momentum that would down the Wolverines in the game.
“We really weren’t focused,” Zimmerman said. “It was Michigan playing Michigan out there, not Michigan playing Arizona State.”
Junior Julianna Paz came out with a vengeance in the next two games, notching 14 of her 18 kills as the Wolverines prevailed, 27-25 and 25-16.
“Whenever she was on the court, I just felt more comfortable as setter,” Zimmerman said. “She was huge for us this weekend.”
With Paz stepping up, Zimmerman saw her numbers skyrocket, as she finished the game with 52 assists and 13 digs and was one kill shy of her first triple-double. Her dominant performance notched her another invitational MVP honor. Paz and Karpiak were also named to the All-Invitational Team.
Earlier in the weekend, Michigan skated to two convincing 3-0 victories against Albany and Western Kentucky.
“We knew this would be a much better test than the three tournaments we’ve played before,” Rosen said. “And with the success we’ve had, I think our team is ready for that next challenge.”
The Wolverines start Big Ten competition this Wednesday in Columbus against Ohio State.