The serve was long — a fitting way for the Michigan volleyball team to clinch a 3-0 victory over No. 8 Michigan State, the best serving team in the Big Ten.
After losing two of their last three matches, the Wolverines had a chance to bounce back at home in front of a sold-out crowd against their in-state rivals. After handling the Spartans easily in the first set on its way to a 25-20 victory, Michigan won the second and third sets — but by much slimmer margins.
The Wolverines maintained a steady lead throughout the first set. Michigan State did not pose much of a threat; Michigan took the lead and did not relinquish it. The teams were tied just once after the game began — and that was with the score tied at two.
Sophomore outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom led the way in the first set with six kills, including two huge spikes that cut off Spartan scoring runs.
After the match, Michigan coach Mark Rosen praised Wetterstrom for her play. She finished with 15 kills and a team-high .423 hit percentage.
“She’s a producer,” Rosen said. “She’s someone that makes everybody else better around her. … She’s fearless. I think that fearlessness, you know in athletics if you’re fearless, you’re dangerous, and that’s exactly how she is.”
The second set was a more hard-fought battle than the first. There were multiple break points, in addition to a whopping 23 lead changes, before the Wolverines ultimately came out victorious.
According to Rosen, this set was the make or break moment of the match. A 2-0 lead allowed Michigan to relax slightly, as opposed to what its mentality would have been had Michigan State won the set and tied up the match.
“To us on the bench (in the third set) we felt like, ‘Hey, we got them where we want them’ because they were kind of panicking,” Rosen said. “I think had the second set gone their way, all of the sudden it’s 1-1, it’s a whole different mindset.”
One of the defining moments of the second set was when senior opposite hitter Katherine Mahlke made a huge dig, putting her body on the line by crashing into the scorers table as she saved the ball. The Wolverines would eventually win the point, garnering huge applause from the packed crowd.
That play exemplified the type of grittiness junior libero Jenna Lerg thought Michigan needed in order to win the match.
“We just had nothing to lose,” Lerg said. “We don’t have a ranking to lose, they have a ranking to lose. We’re trying to fight these last three, four matches we have because we want to play in (the) postseason and they have stuff to lose. … We were kind of balls out today.”
The third and final set was very similar to the second, as it came down to the very last point.
Ironically, in a game in which the Wolverines made so many aggressive and fearless plays, with players sliding and diving all over the court, the game ended without a single Michigan player even touching the ball.