The Michigan volleyball team followed the example of its kills leader, sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones, on Sunday. Against No. 5 Wisconsin, the Wolverines’ upset hopes were dashed by a slew of errors and dominant play by the Badgers’ All-American junior middle blocker Dana Rettke.
Jones had a game-high 21 kills for the Wolverines, showing some impressive spurts of genius against the heavily-favored Badgers en route to her second straight match with 20-plus kills. But she also led the team with nine errors in what ended up being a sloppy loss for Michigan.
“I think we as a team were a little high-air,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “… And that’s where I thought Paige could have been a little bit better.”
“High-air” was a nice way of putting the Wolverines’ struggles. They totaled 29 attack errors to the Badgers’ nine. Michigan also had only one service ace and 12 service errors, giving away too many free points to a Wisconsin team that certainly didn’t need the help. The Wolverines were outhit by the Badgers, .372-.176, as well.
And despite some solid runs throughout the game, Michigan’s passing was poor at times — a sin the Wolverines could ill-afford to commit against the sound and skilled Badgers.
“A lot of teams don’t always capitalize in those situations,” Rosen said. “… We’re in trouble and we can kind of bang out of it and be OK. (Wisconsin) is a team where it’s hard to bang out of trouble.”
But even in the desperation of a fourth loss in five games, the Wolverines were able to take solace in the bright spots that Jones and the rest of Michigan’s young stars exhibited. Even though Jones had difficulty with controlling the ball, it marked her fourth 20-kill match of her young career.
“She’s scoring a lot for us right now,” Rosen said. “She’s carrying a big load for us.”
Two other youngsters, freshman outside hitter May Pertofsky and freshman middle blocker Jess Robinson also had solid performances. Pertofsky and Robinson had eight kills apiece, but they combined for nine errors of their own. Even so, this front-court trio for the Wolverines has been learning and progressing at a strong rate.
The difference in skill between the current iterations of both Michigan and Wisconsin is obvious; the Wolverines just aren’t on the Badgers’ level. But Jones and the other young players showed enough in the loss to give the Wolverines a positive outlook on the future, even if there are some growing pains along the way.
“We’re very excited about what they’re doing.” Rosen said, “… I like how this team is progressing. I like how this team is approaching things, I like how they’re approaching losses.”