The women’s volleyball team has not lost a conference opener in the last four years, but its second-match performances have been a bit less impressive.
Michigan is 2-for-4 in its second matches of conference play since 2007. This year, the 18th-ranked Wolverines will take on undefeated No.13 Purdue in that second match on Saturday — a game that may bring an end to Michigan’s perfect season.
This game will not only be a chance for Michigan to reverse this trend, but it will also mark freshman setter Lexi Dannemiller’s first Big Ten road weekend. The biggest crowd she has seen outside of Cliff Keen was in Dayton. The Red Scare, Dayton’s student section, had a handful of cheers but it had too few members to form the threatening atmosphere that makes all Big Ten schools dread conference road games.
The Block, Purdue’s section, has been described as merciless. While Dannemiller was able to keep her composure in the preseason, there is no telling how she will handle the rabid Boilermaker fans, and unfortunately the fate of the Wolverines rests in her hands.
Michigan’s spread offense has been a key to its success all year, and while its veteran hitters are accredited with the team’s offensive dominance, nearly every ball passes through the hands of Dannemiller first.
In spite of the hype, Michigan coach Mark Rosen believes his team is more than capable of matching up with Purdue.
“I’m not looking at Purdue and saying, ‘Wow, I don’t know how we’re going to match up with these guys,’ ” Rosen said. “They are a very good team, but so are we. We’re both well balanced, we both control the ball really well and we both got size. I think it will be a really good matchup that’s going to come down to who can play the best.”
While it may turn out to be the biggest matchup of the weekend, Rosen has paid little thought to the Boilermakers. He has built an undefeated preseason around taking each match as it comes, and he’s not planning to change a thing. Indiana has Michigan’s undivided attention for the moment.
The (8-4) Hoosiers are rather sparse on the offensive end, running a majority of their hits through only one of their outside hitters. Their success is found on the defensive end, specifically in senior libero Caitlin Cox who recently reached a career 1,535 digs for her career — more than any other player in Indiana history.
With less scorers to cover, blocking will be a crucial element to the Wolverines’ success in this game. Senior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher spoke last week about how she was looking to improve in that area by the start of conference play. This game will be her chance to shine, but she refuses to underestimate Indiana.
“Ranked or not, every team in the Big Ten is going to be good,” Fletcher said. “I hate talking about last year, but we lost to (two unranked teams) Michigan State and Northwestern in one weekend which proves that we can beat or lose to anyone. I’m not thinking about Purdue yet. First and foremost is (Indiana).”
Michigan is determined to limit its letdowns from last year. But overall, the Wolverines understand what an irrational and frightening beast the Big Ten can be. Rosen believes, though, that his squad is approaching this first set of games with the right attitude.
“This is the reason our players came to Michigan — to play in the best conference in the country,” Rosen said. “The preseason was fun, but you can tell that they are really excited to start playing in the Big Ten.”