Coming into this weekend, the Michigan volleyball team knew that they would be in for a tough test — a test that would require truly tremendous play to pass.
After losing in four sets at No. 1 Minnesota (1-1 Big Ten, 12-1 overall) on Friday, the Wolverines (0-2, 10-4) hoped to rebound in a nationally televised game against No. 5 Wisconsin in Madison.
With the second set hanging in the balance, Michigan appeared to be poised to tie the match at one set each. The Wolverines took a pivotal 28-27 lead after a forceful block from redshirt sophomore Cori Crocker was slammed down to the floor for a point.
But then, sophomore setter MacKenzi Welsh fired a serve out of bounds and the Badgers (1-1, 10-1) took the next two points to seal the second set. They then preceded to flatten the Wolverines in the final set, 25-13.
Suddenly, the 20th-ranked Wolverines had an 0-2 Big Ten record.
Both losses came despite the Wolverines holding several considerable leads before eventually crumbling.
“I think we got a little undisciplined this weekend, and we didn’t really stay with the plan as much as we could’ve,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “We weren’t able to stay with our normal, consistent execution.”
Inconsistency plagued Michigan through both matches, as it struggled to piece together a full set of well-rounded volleyball. The offense shined at times, with senior outside hitter Adeja Lambert firing rockets all over the court, and junior outside hitter Carly Skojdt pounding the ball for 21 kills through the whole weekend.
But for long stretches, the offense sputtered. The Wolverines had an astonishing 48 attack errors while also posting six service errors. They appeared to be controlled by the blockers of both Minnesota and Wisconsin, who nearly always seemed to know where Michigan was going to hit the ball. Both teams combined to stuff the Wolverines 30 times.
In short bursts, the defense appeared to be the mainstay. Junior libero Jenna Lerg finished the weekend with 26 digs and Skojdt had a solid defensive performance against Wisconsin, contributing 10 digs.
At times, the defense faltered, too. On Friday, it conceded nine consecutive Minnesota points to open the fourth set. On Sunday, it allowed seven straight Wisconsin points to fall behind in the third set.
“We had periods of time where we executed very well,” Rosen said. “But you got to be able to do it over the length of the match, and we didn’t do that well.”
Even though the Wolverines weren’t able to pass their first test, Rosen believes that they are prepared to ace the next one. When asked if his team was ready for the rest of their Big Ten schedule, Rosen responded confidently.
“We’re gonna be. No question about it.”