At senior day in Holloway Gymnasium, the Purdue crowd was screaming in sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones’ ear. With a cold, hard focus, she pounded the ball into the floor, gearing up for the first potential tie-breaking serve of the set.
As she launched the ball over the net, it found Purdue sophomore Marissa Hornung. An attack error from the Boilermakers sent the ball sailing out of bounds — handing Michigan a point. Shortly thereafter, the ball was returned to Purdue after an out-of-bounds block from the Wolverines. The score continued to waver throughout the third set, with eight lead changes and four match-points. But the sequence was emblamatic of the Wolverines’ fate — a step forward and then steps back.
This back-and-forth style of play was the dominating feature of Saturday’s match between the No. 23 Michigan volleyball team (19-9 overall, 12-6 Big Ten) and No. 17 Purdue (20-7, 12-6). As the Boilermakers swept the Wolverines, 25-17, 25-22, and 29-27, each point was crucial in determining the outcome of the match.
“Volleyball tends to be momentum related,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Scoring runs, that’s just kind of how the game goes.”
The match started in favor of Michigan, with a kill from Jones. The Wolverines gained a 2-0 lead, but couldn’t hold on as multiple errors plagued Michigan’s offense, allowing Purdue to pull away in the end.
Set two began much the same way, with a 5-0 run from the Wolverines. Out of an early Boilermaker timeout, Purdue gained advantage, tying up the set at six. Three more ties ensued before the Boilermakers broke down the Michigan defense for a close 25-22 win.
The defensive struggles continued for Michigan into the third and final set. The Wolverines couldn’t handle the unpredictability of the slide offense from Purdue and also couldn’t replicate it on their side of the floor. With little ability to control a first pass, Michigan settled into sets anticipated by the opposing team.
“It’s part of being in system and when we get out of system we become predictable on offense,” Rosen said. “The other team knows who you’re going to set because it’s your only option.”
This predictability came out of errors in serve receives. The Wolverines were unable to gain control of the ball off serves, forcing bad passes to wrong spots on the floor. Michigan also allowed seven service aces from Purdue, ceding easy points to the Boilermakers.
“The error comes in the third contact, but often it’s in the first contact where we don’t handle a pass well,” Rosen said. “We definitely have to limit our errors against a team like this. We doubled their errors — that’s not good.”
Service errors also plagued the Wolverines offense, as they totaled eight on the afternoon to Purdue’s four.
Cumulatively, these errors led to Michigan’s downfall Saturday afternoon. Without a consistent offense the Wolverines were unable to capitalize on their usual strengths — an attacking offense with a high kill percentage. But in just four days, the Wolverines will get a chance to fix those mistakes in a rematch against Purdue.
“It’s a unique situation,” Rosen said. “I kind of like it. We certainly love the opportunity to get another crack at them.”