The Wolverines came into their first match of the Michigan Invitational with a new game plan and a stronger defense after a five-set loss to North Carolina on Friday. The results looked effective, as the Michigan volleyball team (7-2) defeated Eastern Michigan (5-6) for the 50th all-time match-up.
Sophomore Jess Mruzik gave the team a 3-0 start with a kill followed by two strong serves. From there, redshirt sophomore Hannah Grant chipped in with more aggressive serving to put Michigan up, 7-1. The sophomores’ strong serving was paired with what the team has been lacking, strength in the middle. Those strengths made for an easy 25-11 win in the first set.
“It was just a point of emphasis this week in practice that we have got to get our middles more involved,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said.
And that they did.
Junior middle hitter Jess Robinson led the teams in kills and points. She also tied with freshman middle hitter Jacque Boney to lead the team in blocks, which was a game-changer for the Wolverines. The aggressive blocking and defense delivered an opportunity for sophomore setter Scottee Johnson to create smart plays for her offense.
“I thought Scottee did a great job of just being really balanced; it’s hard to defend a team with four legitimate point-scorers …” Rosen added. “Most teams maybe have two, maybe three.”
The point-scorers he mentioned, senior Paige Jones, Robinson, junior May Pertofsky and Mruzik, showed just how hard they are to defend throughout the match.
“It’s really helpful that there’s not one person who is carrying the whole team on their back,” Robinson said. “We can all count on each other to get kills.”
As she suggested, Petrofsky, Robinson and Boney chipped in several momentum-shifting blocks and kills to allow Michigan to settle into their system.
“(Jacque Boney) is just like the hardest worker and obviously, it shows because she’s getting so many kills and so many blocks,” Robinson said of her fellow middle blocker. “Obviously she’s young, so I think she’ll only get better.”
Despite a slower second set and a service run by Eastern Michigan sophomore Samantha Basham, big kills by Robinson and Jones helped the Wolverines finish the second set with a 25-20 win.
A smart tip by Jones got the team out of an early slump in the third set to make the score 5-6. Following her tip and with several substitutes in from the bench, senior outside hitter Grace Persson and senior opposite hitter Lizzie Sadilek teamed up with Robinson for several big blocks.
Despite Eastern Michigan’s attempt to hold onto its third set early advantage, Michigan continued to find and attack the holes in its defense. Two consecutive kills from Robinson closed the third set and the match with a 25-16 Michigan victory.
“This group works really hard, like we’ve got a lot of kids coming in extra outside of practice time to get more reps,” Rosen said. “You just love a team like that.”