The Michigan volleyball team came into its first Big Ten contest this weekend hoping to put an end to a three game skid. Instead, it proceeded to lose six sets in a row. After getting swept on Friday by Michigan State, Michigan (2-9 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) racked up another loss against Maryland (11-3, 1-1), 3-0, largely due to service errors on the court.
This young Michigan team has been plagued by self-induced errors all season, coming off a destabilizing offseason that saw it lose key pieces of its prior team. A new head coach and transfers from top senior players led the Wolverines to a rocky start to the season. And the loss of junior middle blocker Serena Nyambio in the match against the Spartans on Friday only made matters worse for the struggling Wolverines.
“We were hoping to have (Serena) back today, so we had to line up with something different,” interim coach Benavia Jenkins said. “Our mindset was there’s just some things that we can’t control, like controlling an injury and having a few other missing pieces in our system”
Injuries and Michigan’s first Big Ten contest games coinciding with coach Erin Virtue’s obligation to the U.S. Women’s team in Poland were problems out of the Wolverines’ control. However, their poor performance rests on their own errors.
These mistakes immediately put the Wolverines behind, with three faults giving an early 5-2 lead to the Terrapins. While four kills in a row, including two aces, tied the set 6-6 and a well struck block kill from senior opposite hitter Kendall Murray gave Michigan a short lived lead at 8-7, the set quickly became a game of constant catch up.
Maryland went on multiple runs of three or more points at times thanks to attack and control errors by the Wolverines. Michigan fought back constantly, climbing back toward the competition, but a game can’t be won if you’re only fighting from behind. Fittingly, the set ended when the Wolverines, after narrowing the Terrapins lead to four with two straight points, lost set point on a service error.
The second set took up where the first let off with a service error by freshman Lydia Johnson to quickly give Maryland the lead 1-0. By the time Terrapins had 12 points, a quarter of their score resulted from Wolverine errors behind the service line. The second game was a dominant victory for Maryland. Their blockers frustrated the inexperienced Michigan middle blockers, who took the injured Nyambio’s position on the court.
“It is going to be really hard moving a right side to the middle and she’s going against a 6-foot-5 middle,” Jenkins jokingly said.
The joke was grounded in truth as the differences between the two teams’ middle blockers became glaring in the second set, with multiple strong block assists from the Terrapins that went unanswered by the Wolverines. But the nail in the coffin for Michigan came in the second set when Maryland server Erin Engel had multiple aces in a ten-point surge that netted the Terrapins a quick set two victory 25-12.
In the third set, the Wolverines were back to playing catch up on the court. From the start, the Terrapins took the lead immediately with a strong kill and never gave it up the rest of the match. While Michigan battled more in the third set, going on runs of three and four points in order to narrow Maryland’s lead, the difference between middle-blockers proved too great in this round. Five of Maryland’s points in this game came off the back of strong blocks that forced the replacement Michigan middle-blockers to scramble against the net to save the point, which they ultimately could not. The third set finished 25-21, capping off a sweep for Maryland.
An already floundering Wolverines team needed no extra hurdles to stumble against Maryland in the loss. The injury to Nyambio the match before further destabilized a team trying to find its footing. As they continue into their season, cementing the basics should be the most paramount goal of this error-prone team.