The No. 25 Michigan volleyball team (6-6 Big Ten, 16-7 overall) won handily Friday night in a sweep of Northwestern (4-7, 12-10), beginning a weekend that proved to be quite the roller coaster.
The next night, the Wolverines found themselves on the other side of a clean sweep, falling to No. 21 Illinois in three sets.
Friday night, while Michigan fell behind 24-23 to the Wildcats in the first set, the back-and-forth period was saved in the end by three straight Wolverine kills to secure a 26-24 win. Sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Knop notched eight kills in the first set, finishing the night with a team-high 14.
“There was a lot going right for us (against Northwestern),” Knop said. “A tough battle in the first game kind of set the tone (for the rest of the match).”
Michigan dominated the Wildcats for the remainder of the match, winning 25-13 in the second set and 25-18 in the third. The Wolverines earned a .351 hitting percentage, while Northwestern was held to a .192 average.
“We just kind of felt our way through it (in the first set),” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Once we got our rhythm, especially blocking, I thought we played really well the next two sets.”
Despite the dominant nature of Friday’s triumph in Evanston, a loss on Saturday at the hands of Illinois (6-6, 15-8) highlighted the fact that improvements still need to be made.
“We need to be better in all aspects of the game,” Knop said. “We knew that (Illinois) was a good team.”
Knop cited mistakes regarding blocking, consistency and overall mentality that plagued the Wolverines on Saturday, while Rosen voiced similar concerns.
“One of the things we talked about afterwards was continuing to play the same way night in and night out,” Rosen said. “Obviously, Illinois is a little better team than Northwestern, but we didn’t have the same performance from everybody on our team (against Illinois).”
Michigan never held a lead during the first two sets Saturday, and despite a hot start by the Wolverines in the third set, the Illini tied it at 10 and never looked back, ultimately winning, 25-20.
Illinois accomplished the sweep despite an impressive performance from sophomore middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright, who registered 14 kills on a career-high .571 attack average.
Michigan hopes to learn from both the highs and lows of the weekend in order to ready itself for an always-grueling Big Ten slate.
“I don’t think there’s any other conference that’s even close to as strong top to bottom as the Big Ten,” Rosen said. “Any team could beat any team on a given night, which makes it fun.”