The Michigan volleyball team made a comeback Friday night at Cliff Keen Arena against No. 18 Illinois. After initially losing the first set, the Wolverines played solid defense to help produce a 3-1 win in their last regular-season game, which doubled as Senior Night to honor seniors Carly Warner, Olivia Reed, Tiffany Morales, Lindsey Lerg and Krystalyn Goode.
In October, the Fighting Illini shut out Michigan. This time around, the Wolverines decided to change the result. Michigan’s defense played a large part in earning the win, with freshman Jenna Lerg leading the effort at the libero position. She earned a career-high 27 digs against Illinois and propelled the Wolverines to their win. Lerg also finished the night with two points, one of which came from a server’s ace.
For the beginning of the season, Jenna Lerg’s older sister, senior defensive specialist Lindsey Lerg, had held the libero position for the Wolverines. Jenna Lerg made her first appearance at the position when Michigan upset Ohio State on Nov. 14, where the Wolverines pulled off a three-set win over the then-14th-ranked Buckeyes. At the time, her career high for digs was 14, which she had consistently matched. Lerg almost doubled that number against the Fighting Illini, showing volumes of improvement.
“Twenty-seven digs in a four-set match — I’d say she’s adjusting well,” said head coach Mark Rosen. “Jenna was the MVP for the 16-open National Championship when she was a sophomore in high school, and she’s played on a team that’s been a national contender every single year. She’s a ridiculously good libero.”
After losing the first set 25-23, Michigan’s offense also stepped up its game. Michigan reached a season high of 73 kills, with junior outside hitter Abby Cole also reaching a season-high total with 20 kills on 39 attempts, resulting in a .436 hitting average. Senior middle blocker Krystalyn Goode finished with nine kills out of 16 attempts, a .562 average and a team-high five blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Caroline Knop also pulled a successful 16 kills.
The second and third sets were close, with final scores of 25-22 and 27-25, respectively. The fourth set is when the Wolverines made a clear final push for the win, with a final score of 25-20, despite losing senior Tiffany Morales late into the match due to an injury.
Luckily for Michigan, it had an ace in Lerg, whose skill goes beyond what meets the eye.
“Earlier in the year, we were scouting teams live in the preseason, and Jenna, who’s in the engineering program, she’s very analytical and very smart,” Rosen said. “She would take pictures of other teams’ defense, so she could figure out where their defenses would align. The unique thing is, she doesn’t play offense — Jenna’s a back-row player. She was only doing that to be able to tell our hitters what’s open, so while she’s in the back row she’s telling our hitters where to hit. I was just sitting back thinking, ‘That’s awesome.’ That’s a student of the game.”
The Wolverines will continue their season in the NCAA Tournament, where they will face Santa Clara on Dec. 4.