Michiganbounced back from a tough loss to Duke to beat North Carolina. Lucas Chen/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Michigan volleyball team entered North Carolina with an undefeated record, with rematches against two of its toughest non-conference foes from 2021 on the slate.

On Friday, the Wolverines (7-1 overall) had their biggest challenge of the season and faltered with a 3-1 loss against Duke (7-2).

But they quickly turned the page, sweeping North Carolina (5-3) in three sets Saturday night to end the weekend with a split.

“I thought we took a lot of steps in the right direction, and I think there were a lot of different opportunities for growth throughout the weekend,” junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik said. “So obviously, Friday night wasn’t the result that we had hoped for, but looking back on it, there were a lot of things that we took out of that match that I don’t think we would have learned (otherwise), and were able to learn from for Saturday’s match.”

The learning moments Michigan applied to Saturday were apparent in its weekend-opening loss on Friday. It fell behind 2 points to the Blue Devils early in the first set, but then clawed its way back to tie the set at eight behind a monster double block from senior middle blocker Jess Robinson and junior outside hitter Kendall Murray. Robinson kept the Wolverines close throughout the set, notching four kills and a 1.000 hitting percentage — boosting her nation-leading .568 — but they couldn’t outlast the Blue Devils’ next run and dropped the first set, 25-21.

Michigan rallied to a gritty second set win fueled by accurate serving and well-placed kills from Murray and Mruzik. Duke kept it close, even tying the set at 24, before the Wolverines capitalized on a Blue Devil service error and a Mruzik kill to tie the match at one.

Michigan battled in the remaining two sets, but Duke’s runs were too much for the subpar blocking and defense as it dropped the match, 3-1.

“I thought against Duke, we just did not defend at the level we needed to,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “And some of that was just our setup and our lineup. We saw some things that other teams were going to exploit, but we did change them and we made those adjustments for Saturday.”

The Wolverines battled North Carolina Saturday night, and the beginning of the game was reminiscent of the night before with the Tar Heels taking an early three-point lead.

The Wolverines, however, decided not to panic.

Having learned from the Duke match the night before, Michigan had a sharpened mentality that prepared it for a tightly-contested back-and-forth game.

“We were so focused, we were playing more free, we were playing just more intensely,” Robinson said. “There was no hesitation, no fear. I think it was just flipping that mentality and knowing that we really had to push, and even if it was going to be a close game, we were going to come out on top.”

The Wolverines came roaring back, going on a four-point run with Mruzik serving to tie it at 13. They then took a commanding 19-14 lead behind a six-point serving run from redshirt junior libero Hannah Grant.

“Our servers did a really good job,” Robinson said. “They got the passers out of system, they got the setter on the run. I think it really helped our blockers and our defense when we were just going back at them. It really gave North Carolina a run for their money and made it a lot harder for them to run the offense that they wanted to.”

On top of the serving performance, the Michigan defense — powered by Grant’s 17 digs — kept most balls from hitting the ground. The Wolverines’ defense and blocking carried them through the match, whereas the opposite happened against Duke. And by limiting errors — both hitting and at the service line — they were in position for the sweep.

“At this point in the season, our goal is to keep growing and learning and figuring out how to be the best we can be down the road,” Rosen said.

And with this recent road trip to the Tar Heel state, Michigan grew from the adversity of their first loss to find immediate success in its next opportunity.