Senior middle blocker May Pertofsky laid down a strong block, appearing to just get by the hand of Minnesota libero C.C. McGraw. Pertofsky’s block would have given a surging Wolverines team a real shot at coming away with the first set. Instead the replay showed McGraw narrowly, but successfully, sneaking her hand under the ball and winning the point en route to the Gophers taking the first set.
Just a month earlier, in Ann Arbor, No. 9 Minnesota had easily put the Michigan volleyball team away, 3-0. Friday night in Minneapolis, despite a stronger effort from the Wolverines, the Gophers (14-7 overall, 9-4 Big Ten) once again shut out Michigan (14-9, 5-8).
Since the previous defeat, the Wolverines has changed its schematics significantly. Michigan coach Mark Rosen hoped these changes would allow his team to match the physicality of the opponent.
“We went to a 6-2 offense,” Rosen said. “Where we could have a bigger front row, bigger blocking.”
Michigan flexed its new ability to compete with Minnesota early, going back and forth in the first set and even holding various leads throughout. Minnesota found momentum eventually, leading to a pair of kills from outside hitter Taylor Landfair which propelled the Gophers to a commanding 19-14 lead.
Looking to avoid going down a set early, Michigan gained momentum and was amassing a comeback. It was able to slow down the match and create quality hits leading to kills. But all the Wolverines’ budding momentum was erased when replay overturned the dig from McGraw — putting Minnesota only a point away from taking the set.
A few serves later, Gophers setter Melani Shaffmaster set up outside hitter Taylor Landfair for a kill, delivering the first set to Minnesota.
To begin the second set, the Gophers took command. The Wolverines watched as they fell into a 16-10 deficit, appearing unlikely to find any success. Nonetheless, in similar fashion to the first set, Michigan threatened to make a comeback. A pair of aces from junior setter Scottee Johnson followed by a kill and a series of errors brought the Wolverines to within one, once again finding themselves in a winnable set.
Although they appeared to be mount a comeback, Michigan was ultimately unable to match the high-tempo offensive output of the Gophers. Shaffmaster continued to find her hitters at critical moments late in sets to give her team the edge, allowing her team to come away with the second set 25-20.
The potential Michigan showed in bursts throughout the match finally began to take hold in the final set, as it kept Minnesota from pulling away at the start. Redshirt junior libero Hannah Grant’s defense on the backline slowed the rapid Minnesota offense and allowed the Wolverines to create opportunities to win the set.
Finding themselves down 22-23, senior middle blocker Jess Robinson committed a crushing error on her serve, and made it match point for the Gophers.
“We were trying to serve tough,” Rosen said. “That’s part of the risk.”
Minnesota faced a tougher opponent than it did a month ago, but not one that was on par with it. The new offensive rotation clearly allows Michigan to better utilize its talent — showing flashes of potential to compete against strong Big Ten foes like the Gophers.
As the Wolverines continue their slate through the Big Ten, Rosen must hope those flashes turn into sustained success, to keep from falling any further.