Beating a perennial contender is a difficult feat. It is even harder to do when attempting to overcome self-inflicted wounds.
For the No. 24 Michigan volleyball team (12-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten), Friday’s matchup against No. 11 Minnesota (9-5, 4-2) was a litmus test. Ultimately, the Wolverines were overwhelmed by the Golden Gophers’ stout defense, 3-0, and committed numerous attacking errors in the loss.
Michigan came into the match with momentum off a 3-1 win at Northwestern on Oct. 1, and it looked to carry that into this anticipated matchup after finally cracking into the AVCA Coaches top 25. But right away, Minnesota stole the energy by going on a 9-0 run to capture a 15-5 lead in the first set.
“I just thought we were really streaky tonight,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “A lot of times when you get into the streaks, it’s your first contact. Our passing was great tonight and we passed the ball really well, and they’re a tough-serving team. … We just didn’t have very good rhythm between our setting and our hitting.”
The Gophers rode their own stout play to a dominant 25-12 first set win, with no attack errors compared to the Wolverines’ nine. Michigan junior outside hitter Kendall Murray contributed four of those early errors without providing a single kill. The Wolverines also significantly trailed in hit percentage in the set, just getting out of the negative at .034, while Minnesota finished the set at .500.
Despite the lopsided first set score, senior middle blocker May Pertofsky began to emerge as a bright spot with four early kills, ending the match with eight total. Rosen noted some tweaks from the week’s practices that raised Pertofsky’s game.
“(Pertofsky) was really good and they’ve been working all week to get a different look or rhythm to their offense,” Rosen said. “May hits a quicker ball better, so we tried to spin speed it up. … Her numbers today reflect how hard she’s worked all week.”
But even with Pertofsky’s improved performance, Michigan got backed into a corner after the first set. It needed to rally to put up a more competitive showing in the second set without pressing in a reckless fashion.
“When you are playing a team where we’re not playing our best game, you have to stay pretty even with your attitude and even when you’re playing,” Pertofsky said. “So you can’t just go out and rip as many balls as you can. You just have to play smart.”
In the second set, Michigan found better rhythm but the end result did not change. Play between the teams went back and forth, but Minnesota nudged ahead with a 21-16 lead and held on for the set win. Gophers outside hitter Taylor Landfair recorded the set-winning kill and racked up a remarkable 18 kills in the match to complement a .452 hit percentage.
The third set was more analogous to the first set, with Michigan’s self-inflicted attacking errors continuing to stack upon each other as they dropped the set 25-13. The gap between the teams’ total attacking errors proved decisive: 25 for the Wolverines and a mere eight for Minnesota.
Moving forward in conference play, Michigan knows it has to continue to work on its communication and collective team effort if it wants to diminish its errors. On Friday, it made too many mistakes, and that ultimately cost it the game.