Mark Rosen had never recruited a junior college volleyball player before — until Juliana Paz.
Last year, Terry Gamble, then-coach of Iowa Western Community College, pestered Rosen to take a look at the standout Paz. Despite the risk, Rosen still decided to take a chance on the outside hitter from Porto Alegre, Brazil. The decision has paid dividends — maybe even more than Rosen initially anticipated.
Last night, Paz showed why she’s fifth in the Big Ten in kills, grabbing a team-high 19 in Michigan’s five-set win over Michigan State at Cliff Keen Arena.
“She had a great match, and she’s a great competitor,” Rosen said. “She played great last year but has elevated her level even more this year. She’s playing her best volleyball right now.”
The victory gave the 14th-ranked Wolverines (11-6 Big Ten, 23-7 overall) a season sweep over the Spartans and the State Pride flag for the third consecutive year. The flag flew in Lansing in 1990 over the Capitol Building, and the winner of the series claims the flag after each year.
After leading the match 2-1, Michigan State took much of the momentum in the fourth frame due to Michigan’s inefficient passing and serving, as well as five attack errors in the set. Rosen called a timeout with the score at 17-13, hoping to swing that momentum in the Wolverines’ direction.
But the effort backfired, as Michigan State (5-12, 17-12) pushed the match to a fifth and final frame.
“We always talk about how the aggressive team has the best chance in a fifth set,” Rosen said. “It’s a sprint. You don’t want to be tentative, and the last message we give them as they go out on the floor is to be aggressive.”
According to Rosen, the fifth set is a “roll of the dice,” where anything can happen. Since the set is only to 15, a team has a huge advantage if it grabs a few quick points.
In the final set, Michigan never trailed after racing out to an early 4-1 lead. Sophomore Alex Hunt and senior Megan Bower each posted two kills in the final frame to give the Wolverines the victory. Even though Michigan wasn’t necessarily at its best tonight, the Wolverines found a way to win, and that’s what has Rosen especially satisified with his team this late in the season.
“We struggled a little bit passing tonight and part of that is on Michigan State,” Rosen said. “They are very physical and run a very tight offense. When they’re in system, they are really hard to stop. … We found ways to compete even though we weren’t passing that great and that was good for us.”