EAST LANSING — On Jam the Jenison (Fieldhouse) night, Sparty, the ear-wrenching Spartan marching band and screaming Spartan fans united to make Wednesday’s game as hard as they could for the Michigan volleyball team. But amid the noise and five sets later, the Wolverines prevailed in a contested rivalry battle in East Lansing.
“Their crowd is huge and their band is excruciatingly loud, but it’s amazing — it’s so much fun for them,” said freshman outside hitter May Pertofsky.
The No. 23 Wolverines (19-8 overall, 12-5 Big Ten) fended off the Spartans (14-13 overall, 5-12 Big Ten) in five sets. Michigan won its fourth game against all its rivals this season, and added a fifth consecutive win against the Spartans.
The match started off slow as Michigan found themselves down 2-1 after three sets. Sloppy defensive play and a lack of communication hurt the Wolverines in the second and third sets. An increased pressure in serves for Michigan State added to Michigan’s struggles. In a rivalry game, the pressure only builds on the opposing team, especially if they are away, like the Wolverines were.
“Going down 2-1, it becomes go-time,” said senior setter MacKenzi Welsh. “If you don’t play your best in that moment, you’re going to lose the match. … Taking that negative pressure and just using that to play to the best of your ability, and know that the game is on the line in that moment.”
After hitting .276 in the first three sets, the Wolverines came back to hit .351 in the final two sets. Michigan calmed down and played a sound game that drove them to a narrow victory.
“We looked nervous. We looked emotional,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We were just a little frantic … and we just needed to relax and settle into our own game. I can’t blame them. It’s a big environment. It’s a rivalry game.”
The win itself was impressive and certainly one to remember, but two key players had great milestones. First, Welsh hit the 5,000-assist mark.
“It feels pretty cool, and I know it’s a really cool lifetime achievement,” Welsh said. “I know I wouldn’t be able to without all my hitters and everyone on my team and I’m really thankful that I have the support system that I do.”
Pertofsky notched a career-high 18 kills in a single match, but when asked about the record, she had no knowledge of it, and selflessly deferred credit to her teammates.
“Throughout the game, we just kind of all looked at each other and held each other accountable,” Pertofsky said. “We were like ‘Hey guys, we need to calm each other down and we need to play for each other and play as a team and love each other.’ It’s a family. We can’t be against each other now, so we always started playing together and it came together very beautifully.”
Michigan played far from perfect, but came together and won a difficult game in a tough environment.
“Really proud of how they fought when they weren’t playing their best,” Rosen said. “Tiger Woods used to always use the thing that you have to be able to win with your B and C game … you can’t always have your A-game. We’d like it but doesn’t always happen.”