Friday night, the Michigan women’s volleyball team found itself in an uncharacteristic position.
The team went into conference play against No. 1 Nebraska on Friday with an impressive 11-1 regular-season record — and went out with an 0-1 record for the Big Ten.
Not exactly the way they had hoped the start of their conference play would go, the Wolverines had less then 24 hours to turn things around before hosting Iowa on Saturday. And while there were still some consistency issues against the Hawkeyes, Michigan managed to switch gears for a four-set win to end the weekend 1-1.
In the first match of the weekend, the 22nd-ranked Wolverines (1-1 Big Ten, 12-2 overall) dropped the first three sets against the Cornhuskers, 22-25, 25-20 and 25-18 to record their first Big Ten loss — and second loss overall — of the season. Nebraska tallied five more kills than Michigan and had seven fewer errors, which resulted in a .234 attack percentage, almost double the Wolverines’ .118.
Fifth-year senior outside hitter Kelly Murphy led the offense with 10 kills, followed closely by senior middle blocker Abby Cole, who had nine. Sophomore libero Jenna Lerg contributed 10 of the 47 total digs, with Murphy adding nine to top the Cornhuskers in digs, 47-43.
“Nebraska gave us a great barometer of where we’re going and where we want to be,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “I thought that, physically, we played with them for 85 percent of the match — we were right there, toe to toe with them. There wasn’t a situation where I thought, ‘Man, we just can’t stop this player’ or ‘We’re overmatched here.’
“Where we were different was the other 15 percent, and that’s being able to execute on a consistent basis. That’s where Nebraska is ahead of us, they’re just more consistent. But that gives us a great gauge to where we’re going.”
Michigan turned around on Saturday to face Iowa, where the Wolverines pushed their conference record to 1-1 with a four-set win, 25-21, 25-19, 25-27 and 25-17.
The Wolverine offense dominated the match, with three athletes recording double-digit kills. Murphy and junior outside hitter Adeja Lambert recorded 12 kills apiece, while Cole added 11 for the combined team total of 53 and a team attack average of .279.
“I thought Adeja did a great job this weekend,” Rosen said. “She’s been battling in practice to get in the lineup and I thought she did a great job. Especially tonight, she came out at the very beginning and kind of set the tone with two big kills right off the bat and a block at right that kind of got things going.”
Lambert had the second-highest amount of digs on the team, falling two short of Lerg, who led with eight.
Redshirt freshman middle blocker Cori Crocker also had a great match, tallying a career-high eight blocks on defense and five kills on offense. She finished the night with a .714 attack average.
“It’s really exciting to be able to come out and play in the best conference every single night,” Crocker said. “It’s great to know that everyone you’re playing is the best competition in the country.”