Coming off back-to-back losses to Penn State and Michigan State, the Michigan volleyball team (4-6 Big Ten, 14-8 overall) came out of its tailspin with a 3-1 victory over Ohio State on Sunday.
After starting the season 12-4, the Wolverines hit a rough patch in which they failed to win more than one set in four losses. Their only win came against a Rutgers team that has won one Big Ten match since joining the conference in 2014. Michigan dropped to 13-8 overall and fell to 10th place in the Big Ten out of 14 teams.
Wolverine coach Mark Rosen has not been disappointed with the team’s play, but rather with the fact that the team has serious troubles holding onto late leads and winning close games.
“I don’t want to make any excuses. We haven’t executed as well as we’ve needed to,” Rosen said. “We’re trying to figure out how to do that, especially in those critical points.
“We’ll play long periods of really good volleyball and then just not be able to finish it. That’s something that’s challenging and frustrating and what we’re working on in practice.”
The practice paid off, as Rosen’s methods prepared Michigan to finally hold onto slim leads and make late comebacks against the Buckeyes. At the end of both the first and second sets, the Wolverines scored three and five consecutive points, respectively, to win each set after trailing by one point on both occasions.
In the first set, Michigan’s blocking faltered with only one successful attempt, but its offense came out strong with 15 kills. It was a tight, back-and-forth set with 15 ties and four lead changes that culminated in a 25-23 victory for the Wolverines, despite leading for just 12 of the 48 points in the set.
Michigan blocked more efficiently in the second set with four blocks, and it maintained its offensive pace with 14 kills in the set. The second set, which was much smoother for Michigan, saw just four ties and three lead changes and saw the Wolverines lead for almost the entire set.
Michigan had similar stats in the third set compared to the first, however, Ohio State played slightly better and took a 28-26 victory over the Wolverines.
In the fourth and final set, Michigan dominated from start to finish, never trailing or even tying Ohio State, and won handedly, 25-19. The Wolverines had their most kills in a set with 18 and made the fewest amount of errors in a set for either team with four.
Rosen was impressed by Michigan’s ability to “execute at a consistent level,” as he has been waiting for the team to get out of its recent funk. The victory came at a critical time for the Wolverines, as they are set to begin a three-game home stretch — the start of the final 10 games of the season.
Rosen believes the victory will be a confidence booster for the team and will hopefully help propel them forward throughout the remainder of the season. Yet, despite the victory, Rosen does not want the euphoria from the game to be prominent in his players’ minds.
“We focus on individual opponents,” Rosen said. “ … We try not to get wrapped up in where we are, what we need to do to get to wherever. I think we’re looking to win matches, to move on to the NCAA Tournament.
“… We need to take it one match at a time.”
Despite their recent struggles, the Wolverines remain in position to make the NCAA Tournament. And he believes the game-by-game approach should serve them well once they get there.
“We need a couple big wins,” Rosen said. “ … I think we need to win five of those 10, six of those 10 for sure, that would put us in a great place to be in.
“Certainly we’d love to win 10 — then it would be no question. But I think to give ourselves a really good chance we need to win half of (the final 10) for sure.”
Michigan has been a perennial tournament team over the past 20 seasons, as it has made the tournament 17 times during that span.
And this win sets the Wolverines up for the 18th time out of 21.