Holding a 24-18 edge in only the fourth set, the Michigan women’s volleyball team needed just one more point to win the match and sweep the series against conference rival, No. 21 Illinois. Just as they had all night, the Wolverines turned to fifth-year senior middle blocker Cori Crocker to close it out.
Crocker rifled a spike down the right line and it careened out of bounds following a last-ditch effort by the Fighting Illini to set up a scoring chance. The kill, one of Crocker’s 12 on the night, proved to be the deciding blow in securing Michigan (17-10 overall, 10-4 Big Ten) a massive victory over Illinois (12-11, 7-7).
Crocker established from the match’s first set that she was on her way to a big night. After notching the game’s first kill on a spike set up by senior setter Mackenzi Welsh, Crocker tallied four of the Wolverines’ first 12 kills and helped generate another Michigan point after disrupting a shot up front.
“We saw on the bench that there was a mismatch between her and the blocker that was matched up with her,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “And we all knew really early on that she could score really well.”
Added Crocker: “We ran the same set every time, and they never adjusted, so why would we?”
In the second set, Crocker continued to be active, tallying three kills, the latter of which forced an Illini timeout. Out of the break, she had perhaps her best sequence of the night. After picking up a kill to put Michigan up, 20-13, Crocker got two consecutive blocks right at the net preventing two Illinois scoring chances. On the ensuing serve, she notched another block, this time scoring a point of her own, to give Michigan a 22-13 lead and sending the sold-out crowd at Cliff Keen Arena into a frenzy.
Despite scoring two points, Crocker was more proud of her ability to set her teammates up with her block.
“I think one of my favorite things about playing is being able to set everybody else up,” Crocker said. “And I get a lot of pleasure out of getting my own kills, but one of my favorite things of all time is setting somebody else up to be successful.”
After picking up the win, the Wolverines have now swept the season series against a team that advanced to the national semifinal last season. While the Illini might not be at the same level they were last season, Crocker believes that the sweep will give Michigan confidence as it looks to make a postseason run of its own.
“For the first two months of the season we were saying ‘we’re right there, we’re right there,’ ” Crocker said. “And I think now we’re building on being there. Rolling into the last part of our season, we all feel good and we’re perfecting our craft instead of learning our fundamentals.”