With 8,137 spectators in attendance, the No. 23 Michigan volleyball team drew its largest crowd in team history as it took down rival Ohio State, 3-1, at Crisler Center on Friday night.
The Wolverines more than tripled their previous record attendance of 2,673 from 2009 and more than quadrupled the maximum attendance in their normal arena — the 1,800 seat capacity Cliff Keen Arena.
This was Michigan’s first and only match to be played at Crisler Center this season and its first regular season match played there since a 3-1 defeat against Nebraska in 2015. Last season, the Wolverines hosted two NCAA Tournament matches there against American University and Oregon, both victories for the Wolverines.
Senior middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright remembers those matches well. She appreciated the atmosphere the fans created then, even though it paled in comparison to the atmosphere Friday night.
“The last time we played (at Crisler) we had the first round and the second round of the NCAA Tournament,” Kieffer-Wright said. “I felt like the vibe was going [then], but tonight was just an extra step up.”
For those 8,137 fans in attendance — in addition to the 15 Michigan volleyball players — it was clear that Friday’s match was going to be a special one from the moment of the first serve.
The Wolverines’ student section was filled to the point that students had to find seating elsewhere. They were seen sprinkled across the upper section of the arena, still vigorously cheering along and enjoying the match.
While the fans were very enthusiastic during the course of the entire match, the mayhem reached its pinnacle in the fourth and final set.
Michigan was down 17-11 and went on a 6-0 run to tie the set. At that point, for every subsequent point the Wolverines scored, the fans went wild until the victory-clinching point. The entire arena erupted in a collective cheer of approval louder than any other moment during the match.
During the Wolverines’ final run, players were also getting in on the fun as they were shown dancing on the big screen during breaks in play.
Kieffer-Wright, who was too focused on the match to get caught up in the dancing, thought that the environment pushed the players to win the match.
“It (made) the hairs on the back of my neck stand up,” Kieffer-Wright said. “You just feel good and feel like comfortable and like, ‘OK, they’re ready for this next point and they’re ready to see us win.’ It’s just incredible. I love it.”
Kieffer-Wright led the Wolverines to victory after recording team highs in points, hitting percentage and blocks, with 19, .375 and nine, respectively.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen also noticed the impact of the crowd. The energy the fans brought was unlike any other home match Rosen had ever experienced during his time at the helm of the program.
While he loved the overall support of the fans, he specifically loved the student support and wants to see more matches with this type of turnout. In order to make that vision a reality, however, Michigan will first need to catch up with the rest of the Big Ten in terms of its volleyball arena size.
“We see this [crowd size] all the time,” Rosen said. “Michigan State has that kind of crowd, not consistently, but they’ve had that before. Nebraska has it, Minnesota has it, so in our conference we play in front of that all the time.”
The team sold out Cliff Keen Arena for about half of its 16 home matches last season, and Rosen believes that the team is easily capable of generating an attendance well above Cliff Keen Arena’s maximum, as shown by the turnout for the Ohio State match.
“There is work being done behind the scenes to try to get us into a bigger place,” Rosen said. “Hopefully we can keep pushing the agenda to get that done because we’ve outgrown Keen. There’s no question about it.”
For now, though, the Wolverines will take what they can get in terms of attendance and appreciate the amazing turnout they received for one match.
“It’s a feeling you’ll never be able to replicate,” Kieffer-Wright said. “A rivalry, just a great home crowd. …It just feels good to have the support of Ann Arbor and Michigan students.”