The only thing left for the Michigan women’s volleyball team was to finish. George Washington had looked lost throughout the first two sets of Friday’s match, losing 25-17 and 25-15. But the Wolverines did not have an easy finish in the 3-1 victory.
Michigan lost the third set, 25-23, and survived a close call in the fourth, 25-22, to seal a win in the first of three games the team will play in this weekend’s season-opening Michigan Invitational.
The Wolverines got off to a strong start in the match when a block by sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Knop and junior middle blocker Abby Cole led to an attacking error by George Washington middle blocker Kristel Moor. But the early offensive mishap didn’t startle the Colonials, who went on a 7-2 run shortly after defensive specialist Maddie Brown checked in and began serving.
Michigan, however, revved up its defensive intensity, allowing just 10 points after George Washington’s hot start.
Cole took command in the later stages of the first set, stuffing middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu’s attack attempt. Michigan (1-0) completed the first set with four of its 25 points coming from blocks, while Cole finished the match with a game high 10 blocks.
“I think, last year, the biggest challenge I had in my game was blocking,” Cole said. “So I’ve been focusing on that a lot. … It really helps our back row players. They can read around us, and if we’re in the right position, they don’t even need to pass that ball.”
Added Michigan coach Mark Rosen: “At the net, we did an excellent job at adjusting to their tempo and putting a really good block up that allowed our defense to be even better.”
Michigan’s defense wasn’t the only thing working in the team’s favor. The Wolverines nearly matched the Colonials’ points (17) solely with kills (16) in the first set.
The momentum carried on to the second, when Michigan took an early 11-6 advantage, highlighted by an ace and kill by senior setter Carly Warner. But the Colonials (1-1) responded, scoring three quick unanswered points from Osuchukwu and Moore, which prompted Rosen to call his first timeout.
Once again, Michigan amped its defense, allowing just six points after the break, en route to the 25-15 second-set win.
The Wolverines’ accuracy persisted all throughout the match. After two sets, Warner, sophomore middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright and sophomore opposite hitter Katherine Mahlke all had .400 or above hitting percentages.
The third set began like the second, as Warner conjured two points off a kill and a George Washington attacking error. Michigan ran into trouble, however, despite holding two late leads. The Colonials took the set after four straight points by defensive specialist Maddy Doyle.
“I thought we played pretty well (in the third set),” Rosen said. “I think (George Washington) got a little loose at the end and they made a couple great plays. … That’s part of the game. You have to be able to rebound from those things and go on to win the next set.”
In the fourth set, Michigan was on its heels, never having more than a five-point advantage. The Colonials cut the deficit to 24-22, yet the Wolverines never floundered or worried that George Washington’s momentum would continue.
“In the pregame, (Rosen) talked about one of our points … is win the match, 15-13, in the fifth,” Knop said. “So we’re prepared. We’re not thinking if we’re going to win in three (sets), we’re not thinking we’re going to win in four (sets). If we do, that’s fantastic. But we’re ready to win the match (in the fifth).”
Added Cole: “We hit a little adversity. … But I think it’s good for our team that we saw that in our first match because, in the Big Ten season, we’ll be facing that all season long.”