There were nothing but smiles on the faces of the Michigan volleyball team’s players as they honored senior middle blocker and outside hitters Claire Kieffer-Wright, Katherine Mahlke and Adeja Lambert on their senior night.
Ending a nearly eight-year drought against Purdue, the Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 19-11 overall) upset the 15th-ranked Boilermakers (11-7, 21-8) in the last home match of the season. In doing so, Michigan showed its recent season success was no fluke as it claimed its second consecutive win against a ranked opponent, this time in four sets.
Retaining the winning strategy they implemented against No. 8 Michigan State earlier in the week, the Wolverines emphasized aggression and hustle to counter Purdue’s imposing physicality and size.
“One of the things we talked about in our scouting of (Purdue) is that their team gets really physical and they do some freakish things as attackers, but what they don’t like is … to get blocked and they don’t like to get dug,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “As soon as they get blocked or as soon as they get dug, they make some drastic changes, and they try — we call them avoidance errors — but all of a sudden, they try to do something really different, and next thing you know, they’re making errors. I thought we did a good job of leading them into making errors.”
It was evident as early as the first set that Purdue could not find a rhythm with Michigan’s disruptive game plan.
Recording 20 digs and four team blocks, Michigan forced mistakes from the Purdue offense that had been otherwise consistent. Ranked third in the nation for team attack average with .316, the Boilermakers finished the first set with a percentage of .118.
Even still, Michigan failed to capitalize, converting only seven kills. Purdue eventually went on a 9-4 run to win the set, 25-23.
The Wolverines looked to stay aggressive though.
On the first play of the second set, junior libero Jenna Lerg chased a ball to the far sideline, before quickly withdrawing her arms in response to the pleas of her teammates.
The ball landed out of bounds.
It was another mistake by Purdue, and though it committed less of them in the second frame, Michigan took advantage of any opportunities given to it. And every opportunity was needed in the back-and-forth set.
In the end, the more offensively efficient Wolverines pulled through. Michigan finished with 18 kills on a .342 attack percentage and 18 assists, more than doubling the offensive numbers from the initial set to win the second set, 25-22.
The set was highlighted by junior and sophomore outside hitters Carly Skjodt and Sydney Wetterstrom, respectively. Skjodt had six kills off nine attempts while recording a set-high seven digs. She ended the game with 16 kills and 16 digs, her seventh double-double of the season.
Wetterstrom had five kills in the set, with two coming at the end, where she scored back-to-back points to clinch the frame. She ended the game with 12 kills and four digs.
The third set came in runs. Michigan started with a 4-1 run, allowing Purdue to score off of an error by redshirt sophomore middle blocker Cori Crocker. However, the Boilermakers quickly answered with a 3-0 run to tie the game.
Despite the third set being the cleanest error-wise for Purdue — it committed just five attacking errors and one serving error — they were made at the costliest times. Michigan capped off the frame on a 3-0 run with two of the last three points coming from errors committed by Purdue.
The dynamic between Mahlke and sophomore setter Mackenzie Welsh was evident in the fourth set. Recognizing Mahlke had the hot hand, Welsh found her early, allowing her to score back-to-back points to set the tone for the frame.
Down 13-6, Purdue mounted a comeback, going on a run to tie the game at 18.
But Mahlke scored three straight points for the Wolverines out of a Michigan timeout before the Boilermakers ended the set with three straight errors.
“She’s just got such a live arm,” Rosen said. “She swings fast and high when she gets going. And I thought (Welsh) did a great job of using her at the right time, really, managing her hitters. And (Mahlke) was just delivering. I thought (Mahlke) was just super relentless tonight; she was just going after it. That’s just how she approached the match tonight; she was just going after it.”
Mahlke ended the game with 14 kills on .500 attack percentage, leading the game in efficiency.
Despite putting up a fight, Purdue’s errors proved too much to overcome, committing a total of 33 attacking errors and nine service errors. Michigan, not taking any point for granted, took the opportunity at hand as it sent off its seniors with a win.