Coming off a tough three-set loss last weekend against No. 21 Illinois, the No. 25 Michigan volleyball team (6-8 Big Ten, 16-9 overall) continued its struggles in the Big Ten on Friday and Saturday.
The Wolverines lost to No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 4 Minnesota by scores of 3-0 and 3-1, respectively.
Michigan started hot Friday against the Badgers, leading for the majority of a first set which featured 14 tied scores and eight lead changes. However, the Wolverines’ inability to pull away with the final few points allowed Wisconsin to escape with a 32-30 victory.
The second set did not go any better for Michigan. An early 12-2 by the Badgers run allowed Wisconsin to cruise to an easy 25-12 victory. The Wolverines’ struggles continued in the third set, as the Badgers notched a 25-20 win.
“I really saw us get deflated after that (first set),” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “And (we had) a hard time regrouping in that second set.”
But on Saturday against Minnesota, it was clear Michigan had moved on from the previous night’s struggles. The Wolverines led for most of the first set, but the Golden Gophers went on a late 5-1 run that allowed them to recapture the lead and win, 25-23.
Unlike its matchup with Wisconsin, Michigan showed resolve after losing the set. The Wolverines recovered and led Minnesota for nearly the entire second frame before winning, 25-19. The show of resilience was headlined by a career night from sophomore middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright, who led Michigan with a career-high 15 blocks and six kills. Sophomore setter Caroline Knop added a double-double with 15 blocks and 12 digs.
The Wolverines’ excellent play continued in the beginning of the third set, but after tying the score at 18-18, Minnesota never trailed again, and came away with a hard-fought 26-24 win.
In the fourth and final set, Michigan stumbled once more, allowing an 11-1 run by the Golden Gophers in the beginning of the frame. Despite a late effort, the Wolverines were unable to catch Minnesota, losing 25-22.
Despite the loss, the team felt good about its ability to rebound from their performance the night before. After surrendering sets to Minnesota by just a few collective points, Kieffer-Wright emphasized the team’s confidence in its ability to compete with the best in the nation.
“It’s important to realize that losing like that doesn’t mean we’re not good enough,” Kieffer-Wright said. “It means that we’re right there.”
With more upcoming matchups against tough Big Ten opponents, Rosen reiterated the importance of the team’s development as it approaches the postseason.
“The score is not something we can always control,” Rosen said. “Yeah, we want to win, but we think the process (of development) gets us to the point of winning, rather than if we focus only on the outcome.”