Michigan lost in five sets in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Keith Melong/Daily. Buy this photo.

Michigan coach Mark Rosen has repeatedly extolled the young Michigan volleyball team’s growth and consistency over recent weeks. The Wolverines grinded to three gritty wins to end Big Ten play on the back of their consistent and patient play. Michigan has been able to find rhythm in its outside hitting play, with both sophomore Jess Mruzik and senior Paige Jones averaging double figures in kills and blocks.

On Friday, that consistency was nowhere to be found as the Wolverines (18-12 overall, 11-9 Big Ten) fell in five sets to Ball State (30-3 overall, 17-1 MAC) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan, a team notorious for its underclassmen, looked its age on Friday. The Wolverines’ young hitters seemed surprisingly pedestrian, with only junior middle blocker Jess Robinson shooting above her season hitting average on the night. The team committed far more errors than usual as well, a sign of regression for a team that functions its best when playing patiently and consistently.

“I thought that we played young, and we are young, but it’s certainly not a reflection on how we played all year long,” Rosen said. “It’s disappointing, but I know our players are gonna grow from it and learn from it.”

Michigan started off sluggish, trailing Ball State 11-3 early in the first set. The Wolverines were able to scrape together a couple of short runs to pull within six points but were unable to close the distance any further, dropping the first set 25-17. 

In the second set, Michigan managed to find its rhythm, as the team flipped the script of the first entirely on its head. The Wolverines took a significant 11-3 lead, kickstarted by several service aces from redshirt sophomore libero Hannah Grant. Despite a late surge from the Cardinals, Michigan was able to close out the set. The teams then traded the third and fourth sets to force a final tiebreaker set. 

“(Ball State) took the third,” Rosen said. “The fourth set was a real battle. … We were able to chip away and win at the end, which was great. I’m proud of that fight.” 

Michigan came into the deciding set with momentum and confidence, but an early four-point run from Ball State led the Cardinals to an 8-3 lead. On the following point, sophomore setter Scottee Johnson connected with Paige Jones for a kill in an attempt to staunch the bleeding, but this effort proved to be futile. This kill was the last offensive point scored by the Wolverines in the match, as Ball State coasted to victory, 15-8. 

“I like the fight in this team,” Rosen said. “(But) I thought we gave up a lot of opportunities. … It comes down to execution, and Ball State executed very well tonight.”

Michigan was unable to continue its late season form, as its age and inexperience caught up to it on their biggest stage yet. And this late in the season, there are no second chances. The Wolverines will have to watch the remainder of the tournament from home.