Senior setter Mackenzi Welsh got a dig on the ball, sending it back to junior libero Natalie Smith. Smith set the ball high outside to Welsh, who delivered a blistering attack between two Hawkeye blockers that found the hardwood on the opposite side of the court.
Such a spike is not the most common occurrence for the setter who averages just 0.92 kills per set, but certainly representative of Welsh’s play Wednesday night, which led the No. 23 Michigan volleyball team (18-7 overall, 11-4 Big Ten) to a 3-0 sweep over Iowa (9-17, 3-12) for its fifth-straight win.
Welsh was in complete control of the Wolverine offense against the Hawkeyes. It is the setter’s job to run the offense, and Welsh did just that. She ended the match with 36 assists — the next most on the team being just seven. She also accrued nine digs and two blocks, not to mention her five kills at a .833 clip.
Welsh commanded the offense with her setting capability and placement, creating opportunities for others to score. She attributed much of this ability to scouting the opponent, how their blockers move as well as what weak points to attack and when. But scouting isn’t everything once Welsh is on the court.
“I can also see out of the corner of my eye pretty well,” Welsh said. “And I can watch the blockers on the other side and if they make an early jump. I’m able to set the opposite direction from them.”
Her game awareness was clear, multiple times opting to make difficult backward sets to outside hitters Paige Jones, Sydney Wetterstrom and May Pertofsky to land the kill for Michigan.
“I think her physicality is good,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “She can take those balls above the net because of her physicality. The other team thinks they’re going to get an easy point and all of a sudden Mack’s saving it.”
Those types of plays don’t show up in the box score, but Welsh’s saves regularly kept plays alive while continuing to fill her role with consistent sets to her teammates. She rescued even the most broken plays and turned them into points for the Wolverines, something Rosen attributes to her four years of college experience.
“She’s great when it’s good, but she’s probably even better when it’s bad,” Rosen said. “She takes bad plays and makes them better.”
And Welsh found success even on a night where officiating was tight. There were multiple setting errors called — enough to make Rosen visibly upset. Even enough to result in him calling out to the officials to “let the kids play” after a setting error was awarded to the Michigan side in the third set.
Despite this, Welsh remained stable, closing out the set with 12 assists and guiding the team to a 25-18 win to finish the sweep.
In what may have appeared on the schedule as a straightforward win, Welsh used her scouting, physicality and experience to set up the Wolverines for their fifth-straight victory and first sweep since Oct. 19th.