After back-to-back losses against top ranked teams, the Michigan volleyball team was ready for its Friday matchup with Northwestern. The Wolverines closed out three sets in a row in dominant fashion after dropping the first against the Wildcats. They maintained their composure after going down 1-0 early and closed out two tightly contested sets to finish the match.
The Wolverines (15-11 overall, 6-10 Big Ten) defeated the Wildcats (17-11, 6-10), 3-1, to snap their losing streak.
Michigan dropped the first set despite holding leads throughout the middle section of the set. The match tightened up as the teams both reached the 20 point mark in the set, and it was neck-and-neck from there. After being tied at 22 a piece, Northwestern reached a 24-23 lead and closed out the set, blocking Michigan junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik’s spike at the net.
Despite losing the set, Mruzik and the Wolverines recovered quickly in the second set. Mruzik got started early in the second set, and finished the match tied for a team best 15 kills.
“The setters and I have been working really, really hard just on our connection and our tempo,” Mruzik said. “I thought we really solidified it and that showed tonight.”
The connection between the setters and outside hitters would prove vital to the team’s success as they stormed back in the second set. Leading 9-7 early, Michigan got hot and stretched the lead through the rest of the set. It maintained nearly a 10 point lead for the remainder of the set, and finished it on a Mruzik spike to win the set, 25-15.
The Wolverines enjoyed a great showing in the second set, but after that the rest of the match became closely contested.
The third set saw the two teams matching each other nearly point-for-point throughout. Michigan found itself knotted up at nine apiece, before starting a strong two point run that forced a Northwestern timeout. The back-and-forth match continued with strong play from each side, eventually leading to another Wildcat timeout after a Wolverine ace made it 20-18 with Michigan on top. The Wolverines kept their foot on the gas, only giving up one more point and closing out on an impressive 5-0 run to take the second set 25-19. Michigan showed its toughness and ability to lock in and finish a set, something that it has been working on throughout the season.
“That’s something that we’ve been working on for, you know, four or five weeks now … is being in pressure situations and being able to close that out,” Michigan interim head coach Leisa Rosen said. “It’s much easier said than done.”
The Wolverines would show the improvement their coach talked about again in the fourth and final set of the match. Michigan held a narrow lead throughout, maintaining a consistent one or two point lead and matching any Northwestern runs. After being down three points, the Wildcats finally caught up to tie the match at 16-16. This proved to be a turning point in the set for the Wolverines. They showed their improvement from earlier this season and narrowly closed the match out 25-23 after an unsuccessful Northwestern challenge on the final play of the game.
Michigan showed that it has improved on an essential aspect to the game – something that it has been working on all season. Closing out tight matches as the season progresses shows the Wolverines’ hard work is paying off and they are coming into form in the final month of the season, right when it matters most.