Redshirt sophomore libero Hannah Grant didn’t have to move to receive the match-point serve. She passed it to the middle, where sophomore setter Scottee Johnson set it to the sideline for sophomore outside hitter Jess Mruzik. Mruzik spiked the ball into a weak spot in the Blue Devils’ formation for the kill.
The quick and easy sideout was a fitting way for the Michigan volleyball team (4-1) to complete its 3-2, come-from-behind victory over Duke (6-1) on Friday. After the Wolverines’ sloppy play cost them the first two sets, they cut down on errors, improved their attacking and dominated the Blue Devils in the final three.
The match opened with a long and highly contested point that finally ended on an attack error by Mruzik. Duke quickly grew its lead, capitalizing on several early errors by senior outside hitter Paige Jones and her teammates. Michigan nearly closed the gap after winning four consecutive points late in the set, but the Blue Devils secured the final two points, including a service error by sophomore defensive specialist Brooke Humphrey, to take the set, 25-19.
Errors continued to plague the Wolverines early in the second set. Mruzik and Jones each recorded kills before immediately committing service errors, relinquishing momentum and the serve.
“In the first two sets, between attacking and serving errors, we made 24 errors,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “That’s an entire set worth of points that they didn’t even have to earn, and you just can’t do that.”
Duke built its lead on Michigan’s errors and a mix of power and finesse by its own front line.
Midway through the set, sophomore pin hitter Kendall Murray entered the match for the first time. She earned the playing time with a strong week of practice, according to Rosen, and she made her presence felt with a kill and a block. With Murray on the court, Michigan won seven of the final 10 points of the set. Its comeback was stopped just short by a Blue Devil kill, though, and Duke won the second set, 25-21.
The Wolverines used the locker room break after the second set to retool their strategy.
“We had already lost the first two sets, we were making errors, we were hitting balls out of bounds,” Mruzik said. “At that point, it was, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ We went into (the second half) saying, ‘Alright, let’s just go balls to the wall and see what happens.’ ”
Added Rosen: “We just cleaned our game up, and we executed much better. It wasn’t anything mysterious, it’s just all of a sudden we started executing better, and I thought once we did, we were able to pick them apart a little bit.”
Michigan committed only three third-set errors, serving and attacking with more ferocity. It took an early lead on two Duke attacking errors and three kills by junior opposite hitter May Pertofsky. Later, Mruzik added three straight kills as the Wolverines coasted to a 25-13 win.
After trading points at the beginning of the fourth set, the Wolverines took the lead for good when Mruzik and Johnson teamed up for a give-and-go kill that put them ahead 6-5.
“Scottee did a great job of running an offense that was very purposeful in terms of attacking blockers and attacking weaknesses that they gave us,” Rosen said.
Later in the set, service aces by Murray and Humphrey helped Michigan complete a 25-12 win.
The Wolverines battled fatigue and played their best volleyball in the fifth set, combining for a ridiculous .526 hitting percentage and 12 kills. The Blue Devils couldn’t get a serve or spike past Grant, who kept points alive with several acrobatic digs in the back row while Mruzik and Pertofsky tore the Duke defense apart with four kills each out of the front row.
On match point, Johnson recorded her season-high 50th assist and Mruzik reached a career-high 31 kills.
“I definitely feel like it was a career game, but at the moment it didn’t feel like that,” Mruzik said. “It was just flowing and playing volleyball and working with my teammates.”
The 15-6 fifth-set win completed the comeback and sent a powerful message to Michigan’s future opponents.
“If we play like we did those last three sets, we’ll be in good shape against anybody,” Rosen said.