The score was 17-17 in the first set.
After falling behind, 11-4, early to Notre Dame at home, the No. 19 Michigan volleyball team (11-0) fought all the way back to tie the set. Still struggling to find any real momentum to pull away from the Fighting Irish, the defense saved four spikes before finishing the point off with a kill to take a lead that they would never surrender, en route to yet another straight set victory.
The play in the first set continued the trend of dominant defense that has been the catalyst behind the scorching start to the season for the Wolverines. Led by junior setter Mackenzi Welsh, redshirt junior middle blocker Cori Crocker up front and senior libero Jenna Lerg patrolling the back, Michigan has dominated the opposition with commanding play at all levels.
“We were able to come up with some big defensive plays in that first set,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Senior outside hitter (Carly Skjodt) came up with a couple of big digs, (Welsh) made a couple of digs and next thing you know we’re on a roll.”
The digs did play an integral part in the Wolverines’ victory. Lerg, Welsh, Crocker and freshman outside hitter Paige Jones all finished with double-digit digs in the match, as Michigan outdug Notre Dame 63 to 46. This was the first time since 2016 the Wolverines had four players record double-digit digs in the same match.
“Jenna is a stud at libero. She pretty much can pick up any ball, which is so awesome playing next to her,” Skjodt said. “Our block has done a great job, which makes it easier for our floor defense at the back to read around it and pick up balls that we wouldn’t have been able to pick up otherwise.
The digs offer arguably the biggest evidence towards the dominance from Michigan this season. It has 497 digs on the season compared to 385 from its opponents. That averages out to 16.6 digs per set, compared to 12.8 from its opponents.
“Digging 3-4 consecutive plays in a row, it’s great. It really gets the crowd going which gets us going,” Lerg said. “It really tires out the other team because it’s exhausting when they keep swinging and keep swinging and don’t get anything in return. I think it really puts the other team at a disadvantage and then once we can finish the point, it’s really a momentum swing.”
The defense has kept them in control of their matches time and time again this season. With Big Ten conference play starting, that continued dominance could be the key for the Wolverines to continue to climb the national rankings and raise the ceiling for what this team can accomplish this year.