Freshman middle blocker Jess Robinson goes up for the attack mirrored by two Gopher blockers. Her hand comes forward, delivering the attack. The ball collides with the defenders’ arms and falls to the floor — point, Minnesota. The Crisler Center is silent for the first time all night. The Gophers win.
The Michigan women’s volleyball team (13-7 overall, 6-4 Big Ten) gave up a two-set lead to No. 7 Minnesota (15-3, 9-1) Friday night, losing the fifth set, 15-13. The close loss was a missed opportunity for Michigan in what would have been a statement win against a top-10 team as well as conference opponent.
The match opened up in the Gophers’ favor, who had the lead for the initial part of the first set. Two kills by Robinson, assisted by senior setter Mackenzie Welsh, tied up the set for the Wolverines. Afterwards, both teams were locked in a back and forth battle until the end of the set, which included nine lead changes and eight ties. Michigan finished off the set, 25-23 with a memorable play — senior Sydney Wetterstrom laid out for a dig that Welsh set to Robinson, who delivered a powerful kill in the back corner of the court.
The Wolverines carried the momentum into the second set, trailing only once in the entire set. They showed control throughout, operating efficiently on offense. They found many kills off of assists by Welsh to sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones. At one point, Michigan was siding out at 68.8 percent. The Wolverines took the set, 25-23 and a comfortable 2-0 set lead going into the third set.
The third and fourth sets painted a different story. Minnesota came out more aggressively and successfully contained Wetterstrom and Jones. The Gophers increased their serving intensity, keeping the Wolverine setter on the run. This changed the offensive dynamic, causing the team to struggle with their passes and become predictable.
“Our passing numbers went down, their blocking numbers went up, and those two things are tied together,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We lost a lot of the balance to our offense in the third and the fourth set.”
Other Michigan struggles could be attributed to the physicality and athleticism of the opposition, with Minnesota outside hitter Alexis Hart at the forefront. Hart finished Friday’s matchup with 20 kills and a .378 hit percentage.
“She was going over the block a lot of time,” Rosen said. “It creates a different dynamic.”
The Wolverines, unable to contain Hart’s attack, dropped the third and fourth sets, 21-25 and 18-25 respectively.
The fifth set started off evenly, each team responding to the other’s intensity. Michigan went into the side switch leading, 8-5, after two Wetterstrom kills. Minnesota responded by winning six straight points and taking the lead, 11-8. The Wolverines fought their way back to a 12-12 tie after a blistering kill by Jones. Hart responded with her own attack, putting the Gophers up one. Jones countered with a block to tie the set up again at 13-13. A mishandled ball by Michigan dropped to the court. Match point, Minnesota. The Gophers took the set, 15-13, after Robinson was blocked, completing the reverse sweep.
“In the fifth set, there was little swings in momentum on both teams,” Rosen said. “It was a two point game in the end.”
The close loss visibly hurt the Wolverines. They walked off the court into the tunnel with their heads down, having to prepare for a bout against No. 6 Wisconsin in just two days.