Michigan's inability to keep up with Ohio State's fast tempo was apparent as it fell in straight sets. Riley Nieboer/Daily. Buy this photo.

Ball tempo — the set timing and speed — is fundamental to the success of a volleyball team’s offense. It determines how fast the attacker takes their approach and how quickly they make contact with the ball. It also impacts how fast the blockers move and how quickly the defense responds to an attack. 

No. 6 Ohio State (14-5 overall, 10-1 Big Ten) runs one of the faster tempos in the Big Ten, and on Wednesday, the Michigan volleyball team (13-8, 4-7) failed to keep up, falling in straight sets to its rival.

“I thought from the very beginning of the game we looked tentative, we looked a little bit out of sorts because I think we were a little overwhelmed,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “Overall, I think we adjusted well, but to me it was more about the slow start. You just can’t start that slow against a really good team like that and expect to climb back into it.”

The Wolverines’ slow start was evident from the first set. The Buckeyes took the lead early in the match with the help of their quick attackers and fast-paced offense, forcing Michigan to use two timeouts. Although the Wolverines found themselves in a near-instant ten-point deficit, they fought aggressively against Ohio State, securing a four-point run to end the set. Despite their comeback effort, though, the Buckeyes took the opening set, 25-17.

In the second set, Michigan attempted to bounce back from its slow start against Ohio State. Down 8-4, it was able to go on a four-point run facilitated by strong blocks from sophomore middle blocker Jacque Boney and senior right-side May Pertofsky. The Wolverines did their best to keep up with Ohio State with kills from Pertofsky and junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik, but ultimately dropped the second set, 25-21.

“The middles and our right side blockers were working as hard as they could and I know that with a really fast tempo it’s hard to make a really big move,” Mruzik said. “They picked really good spots but unfortunately, the ball snuck through a few too many times.” 

In the final set, Michigan took an early five-point lead against the Buckeyes, seemingly better adjusted to their fast tempo. This time, Ohio State rallied, tying the set 14- 14. The Wolverines responded promptly, going back and forth with Buckeyes until the final points of the set. After a hitting error, Ohio State took the lead at 24-23, forcing Michigan to call a timeout. Eventually, the Buckeyes took control and closed out the match with a four-point run and a challenge, winning 25-23.

“The mindset we had was to be much more aggressive, and go at them much more aggressively both as servers and attackers, and I don’t think we did that in the beginning,” Rosen said. “I thought we got into more of a rhythm at the end of the match.”

If the Wolverines want to keep up with the pace of teams like Ohio State and translate their aggression into a win in the upcoming Big Ten matches, they need to come out with that energy from the very beginning.