As the Michigan volleyball team’s bench rushed onto the court to join the dogpile, head coach Mark Rosen jolted out of his seat. His wife, associate head coach Leisa Rosen, threw her right fist into the air.
Their slew of reactions came in the moment the Wolverines (24-9 overall, 11-9 Big Ten) clinched their berth in the Sweet Sixteen with an upset win over No. 12 Pittsburgh (30-2 overall, 17-1 ACC).
Saturday’s win adds yet another jewel to Mark and Leisa Rosen’s coaching crown — one that already included nine All-Americans, 17 postseason appearances and over 400 victories in their tenure in Ann Arbor. The Rosens’ most recent achievement marks their seventh trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 20 years at the helm of the program.
But that’s merely a number to them.
“I don’t keep track of those things,” Mark Rosen said. “I just like the fact that we’re in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s a great accomplishment for this team, but we want to go farther. We’re not satisfied — we want to go win the next one.”
To get there, the Rosens first had to get through Navy, which presented Michigan with the challenge of an unconventional style in the opening round. The Mids (23-9 overall, 13-3 Patriot League) won their conference title, highlighted by the one-dimensional offense they used to cruise through the regular season. Outside hitter Maddi Sgattoni finished the season with 1,288 attack attempts, over 540 more than any of her teammates.
After facing six of the AVCA Coaches Poll’s top-12 teams in its regular season Big Ten slate, the Wolverines had adapted to seeing well-versed offensive attacks. Adjusting to Navy’s one-woman show posed a challenge, but the Rosens put a defensive scheme in place to neutralize Sgattoni’s skill set. Michigan executed the gameplan to perfection, holding Sgattoni to two kills on 36 attempts while forcing her into seven errors.
The player responsible for spearheading the Wolverines’ adjusted defensive effort was senior libero Jenna Lerg, but that’s nothing new. Now in her fourth year as a starter, the Michigan native recorded 18 digs in the opening-round match. In the midst of making dramatic one-armed saves look routine, Lerg recorded the 1,927th dig of her career — a feat which moved her into second place on the program’s all-time list.
“(Lerg) is arguably the best libero we’ve ever had,” Rosen said. “She’s great at the whole game. We can look at records, but it really comes down to how she impacts this team. She elevates the level of this team, and that’s huge for us. She comes up in big points, and her skill set can change the momentum of the entire match.”
The sweep of Navy set up a showdown with Pittsburgh, the ACC champion. Squaring off against a 30-win conference champion on its home court in the Big Dance can be daunting, so the Rosens went back to the drawing board to craft another thoughtful approach.
One five-set thriller later, the Wolverines were off to the Sweet Sixteen.
On his way to shake hands with Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher at midcourt, Mark Rosen walked by his coaching binder, which sat untouched on Michigan’s bench. Rather than continuing his journey to Fisher, Rosen stopped, doubled back to his seat, and grabbed his binder — a choice emblematic of his task-oriented approach to coaching.
The next task at hand? No. 5-seed Texas (22-4 overall, 17-1 Big 12).
Rather than taking time out of the upcoming week to commemorate the victory, the Rosens will be studying film on the Longhorns. The battle will take place on Brigham Young’s campus in Provo, Utah on Friday afternoon.
“We need to figure out how to advance past each team we play,” Rosen said. “It’s not about playing pretty volleyball, it’s about advancing to the next round.”
If the Wolverines can upend Texas, it’d mark Michigan’s third Elite Eight appearance of the Rosen era — further etching their names into program history. As their coaching resume continues to grow, the Rosens’ legacy begins to approach immortality.
To Mark and Leisa, it’s just one more task.