The Michigan volleyball team was ready for a fight against Iowa.
The first set of play was hotly contested, with each team fighting to create any sort of separation. It wasn’t until the score was tied at 13 that either team could jump out to a significant lead. Sophomore setter Scottee Johnson launched the ball towards sophomore outside hitter Jess Mruzik, who spiked it off the Iowa blocker’s outstretched hands to earn a critical side out. The Wolverines subsequently rattled off a quick seven-point run and dropped just four more points en route to a comfortable 25-16 first set win.
Patient but aggressive. This mantra repeated by coach Mark Rosen perfectly encapsulates Michigan’s win in straight sets over the Iowa Hawkeyes.
“We kept pushing them,” Rosen said. “We kept pressuring them, and all of sudden in the first set we broke it open.”
Michigan played a consistent match, tallying just eight errors over three sets of play — half of Iowa’s 16. The constant pressure of the Wolverines’ capable outside players eventually overwhelmed the Hawkeyes. Iowa lost the first two sets after major Michigan scoring runs and was unable to even put up a fight in the third.
Mruzik totaled 14 kills on .481 hitting, and senior outside hitter Paige Jones added another 11 kills on .258 hitting. Both players posted accuracy marks well above their averages for the season.
“Iowa is a really good blocking team,” Mruzik said. “I just wanted to keep swinging high and (use) the top of their hands to get as many lucky bounces as possible.”
Mruzik aimed high and repeatedly bounced her booming spike off the outstretched hands of the Iowa middle blockers. This strategy, a product of Rosen’s game plan, resulted in many side outs and runs in the Wolverines’ favor. Time and time again, Michigan relied on its outside hitters — and time and time again, they rose to the occasion.
“I was really pleased with how steady our team played,” Rosen said. “Iowa played really well, especially in the first set early and the second set. They were hitting great numbers (and) running a really good offense.”
As a team, Michigan was able to outpace Iowa’s formidable offensive attack due to its patient but aggressive scheme. The Wolverines were never fazed, even when the Hawkeyes held a three-point lead midway through the second set. Inevitably, Iowa would make an error. Two missed attack chances by the Hawkeyes led to a one-point lead in Michigan’s favor. The Wolverines never relinquished the lead again.
Michigan’s dazzling 51 kills on .391 hitting are numbers that prove a trust in Rosen’s ideals. The relatively low volume of attempts, only 10 more than Iowa, proves that the Wolverines were able to put the ball away consistently.
Patience and aggression have allowed this Michigan team to approach its full potential. Few teams can keep up with Michigan’s outside hitters when they are able to grind their opponents down in the way they did Saturday.