With the score knotted at 14-13, Jenna Lerg was serving for the match. The junior libero hit the ball deep to the center of the court, and while Illinois was able to get to the ball, it couldn’t make anything of the chance. Lerg clinched the match with the ace.
The Michigan volleyball team stormed the court in elation. After three, five-set games in a row, the Wolverines finally closed one out.
Michigan (7-9 Big Ten, 17-11 overall) took on Northwestern (4-10, 14-13) Friday night, but fell to the Wildcats, 13-25, 25-22, 25-19, 21-25, 15-13. The Wolverines then faced the Fighting Illini – only a week after losing to them in Urbana-Champaign – but this time changed the outcome, winning, 25-20, 22-25, 25-23, 15-25, 15-13.
Though Michigan was fatigued, it was determined to be on the winning end of a fifth set. But it was going to have to work for it. The Wolverines and Illinois traded points back and forth, with neither team pulling away by more than two points for the entire set.
But then the Fighting Illini had an opportunity to gain momentum with the match. After a long rally, one of their players pancaked the ball, which led to a kill and gave Illinois the lead. The team was electric, but Michigan coach Mark Rosen challenged that the ball was down and the call was overturned.
The game was neutralized once again, until the Wolverines closed it out.
“To go point for point is a little nerve-wracking at times because you want to be the one serving aggressively,” said senior middle-blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright. “You don’t want them coming at you. It’s kind of hard to shift momentum back so many times. You’d rather just have it all.”
Michigan tried everything it could to avoid a fifth set, but the fourth set got away from the Wolverines. It was the only set of the whole night that wasn’t within five points. The Fighting Illini had a run where they scored nine of 11 points, giving them a 18-9- lead. With Michigan down by eight, it tried to fend off Illinois’ set points, but sophomore outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom went for the cross-court kill only to be blocked.
The weekend was full of highs and lows, and even though it appeared junior outside hitter Carly Skjodt was a consistent high, that isn’t necessarily the case. She notched 20 and 18 kills against the Wildcats and the Fighting Illini, respectively, but her kill percentage was something to consider. Against Illinois, Skjodt finished with a .340 kill percentage — the lowest on the team.
“We’re getting her too many swings to be honest,” Rosen said. “She was really kind of running out of gas. … We’ve got to be careful. We’re trying to stay balanced, but we overloaded her too much today, and I thought she fought really hard. You could see her getting frustrated but that’s kind of her role and she knows it, and she handles it really well.”
As Michigan enters the conclusion of its season, it will need to control not only how much it is playing certain Wolverines, but also learn to close out games earlier.