Here’s something you haven’t heard all year — the No. 18 Michigan volleyball team dropped a set.
Then again, here’s something you have — the Wolverines won.
If you asked them, they would only talk about the latter, not that the team ignored dropping a set. It’d be hard to avoid when making adjustments and improvements. But in the bigger picture of things, it was what it’s been all year — a non-factor.
“I don’t even think we set any expectations,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen on dropping a set. “We didn’t think we weren’t going to drop a set all season long. Nobody really felt that was a thing.
“It was more about how we recovered from that just like in any match and first set, second set, and especially third set, ‘How are we going to do the next set?’ And I think they responded well.”
After 32 consecutive set wins, the Wolverines dropped one in their matchup against Notre Dame during the backend of a home-and-away. The usually disciplined team committed 26 errors compared to the Fighting Irish’s 18, and the balanced offense Michigan prides itself on was reduced to a season-low .093 attack percentage for the losing third set.
But it was all within the game plan.
Not losing a set that is, but encountering the heavy and suffocating Notre Dame defense, adjusting to the schemes and bouncing back.
“They did a really good job of adjusting to us,” Rosen said. “They’re a very good defensive team. They can do some things to take things away from you.”
The adjustments didn’t start straight out of the fold, though. Rosen pointed to attack percentage and kills as indicators of the Wolverines’ hot start. Eighteen kills on 36 attempts — a .361 attack percentage — for a single set are the most efficient posted by Michigan in the Notre Dame series. The second set is when the chess match began for Rosen, however.
“They made some adjustments in the second set,” Rosen said. “And they took some things away from us that we did really well, and the game started flipping. Our offense certainly was not efficient. We were able to pull it out, but I don’t think we were playing great.
“It was kind of a back-and-forth thing where there were lots of adjustments made with them and us.”
In order to clinch an up-and-down second set, senior outside hitter Carly Skjodt and junior setter Mackenzi Welsh had to post back-to-back kills when the set was tied, 23-23. Skjodt had a team-high 13 kills and added 16 digs for a double-double. Welsh posted a game-high 46 assists while expanding the team’s offensive options when the Fighting Irish figured out how to counter the initial offense.
And after the third set, Michigan needed it. With just 11 kills and a .093 attack percentage — a percentage well below the standards of any team — the Wolverines looked to their depth for an answer. And thus the adjustments began.
Using the middle offense more, junior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom and sophomore middle blocker Kiara Shannon saw an immediate impact early in the final set that helped atone for the plethora of errors committed by the early offense. With a 5-0 burst late in the set due to the rotation of bench players, Michigan overcame Notre Dame, which had a top-heavy offense, relying on three players for the majority of its offensive impact.
And the Wolverines had all seen this before, in the teams’ prior matchup on Friday. But as Rosen noted, “Part of it is that you’re used to it or you’ve seen it, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”