There was a mix of excitement and emotion in the air, as a sold out crowd filed into Cliff Keen Arena for the final Michigan volleyball match of the regular season. The final home match of a season is always bittersweet; it signifies the end of a long season, but it also serves as a night to honor the team’s seniors.
With this added weight, the Michigan volleyball team (17-13 overall, 8-12 Big Ten) defeated Rutgers (8-24, 2-18) 3-0.
Rutgers came out of the gates hot; despite entering the match on a six match losing streak, the Scarlet Knights were in control early in the first set, holding their largest lead at 15-10. But for the Wolverines, it was just a matter of settling in and getting comfortable.
“I thought we played a little bit tight,” interim head coach Leisa Rosen said. “I think once we got rid of the tightness and (stopped) trying to play perfect, I thought that’s when it started to open up.”
And the Wolverines rallied back. After three consecutive kills — one by sophomore middle blocker Jacque Boney and two by junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik — put Michigan up 21-20, the Scarlet Knights were forced to call a timeout. The Wolverines’ momentum was not quelled, however, as Mruzik notched two more consecutive kills to give Michigan the 23-20 lead. The Wolverines didn’t look back and closed out the set, 25-22.
Building off a strong finish in the first set, Michigan flexed its muscles in the second. With the score knotted at 3-3, the Wolverines launched into a 6-0 scoring run, forcing Rutgers to call another timeout. Just as it did in the first set, Michigan continued its domination out of the timeout, finishing the set with a score of 25-9.
Much to the delight of the Michigan sideline, senior setter Jenni Liu got involved in this second set, notching a service ace and three assists. Up to this point, Liu had only appeared in one other match this season. This match was an emotional one; not only for seniors like Liu, but for all the players and staff.
“We wanted to win this match for the seniors,” Rosen said. “Whether it’s Crisler or Keen, this is home for them and we wanted to make sure that we sent them off the right way.”
And that’s precisely what they did, as the third set consisted of more Wolverine dominance. Whatever the Scarlet Knights tried to throw at Michigan, the Wolverines had an answer for it. Michigan slammed the door with a 25-11 set victory, the epitome of a true team effort as every player available entered the match.
Mruzik, senior opposite hitter May Pertofsky and senior middle blocker Jess Robinson led the way for Michigan with 12, 10 and eight kills respectively. Senior setter Maddie Dowd and junior setter Scottee Johnson set them up, tallying 17 and 14 assists, respectively.
On Sunday night, the Wolverines’ season officially came to a close, as they were not awarded a bid into the NCAA tournament. Regardless, Michigan came into Cliff Keen Arena on Friday night and accomplished exactly what they set out to do: win the match for the seniors.