Cliff Keen Arena was abuzz from start to finish as the No. 18 Michigan volleyball team celebrated its Senior Night with a win against No. 14 Michigan State. On this emotional night, it wasn’t a senior who may have made the biggest impact in a 3-0 sweep — it was sophomore middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright.
Coming off of a road game in which she posted a career-high 16 kills, Kieffer-Wright aimed to use her momentum from the previous match to start off strong in Wednesday’s game.
“Claire has such a great attitude, and whenever she gets going, she pulls someone else with her,” said senior middle blocker Abby Cole. “She gives the momentum to someone else. She shares that.”
Her success indeed carried over to the team as the Wolverines gained an early lead in the first set and finished it, 25-16, without trailing once. Kieffer-Wright helped close the set, scoring four of the last five points and leading the team with six kills and an attack average of .455.
Kieffer-Wright’s finishing performance during the set was met with roaring approval by the sold-out crowd in the arena. While emotions ran high in the last home game of the season, Kieffer-Wright held a strong mental fortitude that she had worked on throughout the season.
Carrying her sharp focus into the second set, Kieffer-Wright scored the first point to spark a 17-4 run. She recorded two blocks and two block assists during the stretch. She ended the set — which Michigan won, 25-11 — with a spike down the right of the court. Her performance made a strong statement on how Michigan was going to play the game. Despite an overwhelming dominance, the Wolverines’ respect for their opponents meant playing to their ability, no matter the score.
As the team headed into the locker room after the second set, Kieffer-Wright’s impact loomed large over the game, especially thanks to her effect on her teammates.
“She’s so much more connected to her teammates because she’s not in her own mind, and I think you just see her maturing as an athlete,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Physically, she’s a great athlete, but mentally, she’s sharp. She is very in tune with the game.”
Looking to make the third set the final one, Kieffer-Wright entered the court again with the same mindset she had at the start of the game.
And in similar fashion as the second set, Kieffer-Wright opened the third with a kill that led to a Michigan run. Her kills were defining moments within the game and set the pace for the aggressive style of play the Wolverines adopted.
Unlike the first two sets, however, Michigan struggled to maintain its lead as the Spartans tied the set late after a four-point run. However, Kieffer-Wright had key plays that kept the Wolverines in the game and stopped the momentum from going the Spartans’ way. Scoring the advantage point twice as both teams battled for the two-point advantage, she relieved a large amount of pressure from the Wolverines so they could continue to be aggressive and ultimately win the set, 32-30.
Kieffer-Wright recorded her seventh consecutive match with double-digit kills, as she led the team with 12 for an attack average of .476. She also led the team in blocks for the 18th time this season, tallying seven.
“This has been a really big season for her,” Cole said. “She’s made more of an impact than I can even explain. Not only is she a team player, but emotionally I think she gets big plays when they’re needed.”