Last weekend, the Michigan volleyball team got a taste of what it felt like to beat a ranked opponent. This week, the Wolverines wanted more, and they got it while also making history.
Wednesday night, Michigan took on No. 4 Penn State (13-4 Big Ten, 24-4 overall). After struggling in the first set, the Wolverines (8-9, 18-10) came back stronger and managed to pull off the upset with a 3-1 win, marking their first-ever win in State College.
“In my four years, we haven’t beaten them at all, so it was definitely a great win,” said senior setter Carly Warner. “It’s hard to believe it actually happened, especially at their gym, which is really hard to do.”
Warner led the defense with 19 digs and helped lead a Michigan offense to victory in an old-fashioned shootout with the Nittany Lions. Penn State scored 22 points or more in all four sets, but junior middle blocker Abby Cole’s team-high 17 kills helped the Wolverines hold on for their first victory over the Nittany Lions since 2002.
Michigan started slowly while Penn State opened the match with momentum. The Wolverines found themselves down 7-3, forcing coach Mark Rosen to take the team’s first timeout. Michigan couldn’t find a rhythm to take the lead, so the Wolverines took a second timeout as the Nittany Lions led 15-6. In the end, though, they couldn’t regroup against a relentless offensive and defensive effort by Penn State, which took the first set 25-14.
Michigan refused to go down without a fight, opening the second set by making sure never to let the Nittany Lions pull too far ahead. Down 14-10, nothing seemed to be working for the Wolverines until a few late mistakes from Penn State put them right back in contention. When the Wolverines had their first lead of the game, 23-22, the Nittany Lions took their first timeout, but Michigan came back out firing to win the next two points and take the set, 25-22.
“We were all of a sudden kind of down, and that put us on our heels a little bit,” Rosen said. “We did a great job in the second set of just being steady and really raising our level as the set went on. I give a lot of credit to our players for being strong enough to do that.”
The Wolverines tried to carry their momentum from the second set into the third as they began the frame with a 5-1 lead. They maintained that lead, but the Nittany Lions stayed close and eventually tied the game at 20.
Penn State appeared to take the lead on the next play, but Michigan protested that a fan interfered, forcing the officials to meet before ultimately calling back the point. Luckily for the Wolverines, it gave them a second chance to dominate the rest of the set and win by three.
The Nittany Lions were the first team to find a rhythm in the fourth set, gaining an early lead of 11-7. Michigan began to fall further behind but eventually came out of a timeout fired up and tied the game at 15 before winning five straight points.
Trying to battle back, Penn State coach Russ Rose took another timeout while trailing 21-18 in an attempt to try and derail the Wolverine offense. But Michigan refused to be stopped and took the fourth set, 25-21, for the victory.
The Wolverines’ two-match win streak over ranked teams comes at a crucial point of the season, following four straight losses. After its latest spurt of momentum, Michigan has set itself up nicely for a match against Nebraska on Saturday at Crisler Center.