Underclassmen aren’t usually expected to emerge as team leaders.
But sophomore Lexi Zimmermen has been just that for the Michigan women’s volleyball team, a year after she earned Big Ten All-Freshmen honors.
Zimmerman continued that success last weekend, leading the Wolverines to a 3-0 record at the Rice University Mizuno Invitational in Houston.
“Last year she had a lot of senior attackers around her, so if she made a mistake they could bail her out,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “This year, she is that player. A lot of the younger players are looking to her now for leadership.”
Zimmerman and the Wolverines began the season on a positive note Friday afternoon, beating Louisiana-Lafayette (25-10, 25-22, 25-17).
Senior Beth Karpiak had the best attack percentage of the match (.412), scoring 10 kills on 17 attempts. Karpiak grabbed All-Tournament honors along with Zimmerman and juniors Juliana Paz and Megan Bower.
Michigan’s stellar defensive game complemented Karpiak’s offensive effort, forcing the Cajuns to tally a negative hitting percentage. Tournament MVP Bower led the way with three stuffs. It was the first time Michigan held an opponent to a negative hitting percentage since 2004.
The Wolverines continued to cruise Saturday with three easy sets (25-19, 25-13, 25-12) over Texas-San Antonio.
Paz helped the Wolverines’ offensive explosion, tallying 11 kills in the match.
“My first Division I trip went really good,” Paz said. “I am getting to know the coaches and players better everyday and so far, it has been great.”
Later Saturday night, the Wolverines squared off against the tournament host, Rice. Both teams came into the match undefeated.
But the Bower-Zimmerman leadership tandem again led the Michigan charge.
Bower had a career-best 14 kills while Zimmerman dished out 34 assists, her second straight match with more than 30 assists.
The Owls kept it close early in game one. The Wolverines then took an 18-11 lead and never looked back, winning 25-16. Michigan was able to capitalize on multiple miscues by Rice throughout the match.
The Wolverines were solid through the next two games, winning 26-24 and 25-15, capping off a great first weekend.
“Our focus is just getting better every match and taking baby steps to becoming a better team,” Zimmerman said.
Rosen will look to Zimmerman to help lead this young Wolverine squad as they continue to mesh together as a team.
“Everyone on the team is getting along phenomenally well,” Rosen said. “One thing I think we need to try more is to push each other, but at the same time keeping that 100-percent positive team perspective.”