In the No. 24 Michigan volleyball team’s last two games against ranked opponents, it was swept. In Sunday’s away contest against Wisconsin, that trend continued but with many improvements.
Michigan (13-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) lost to the fifth-ranked Badgers (13-3, 7-1), 3-1, in a game the Wolverines showed signs of promise and prevented a sweep, but ultimately fell short.
“We’re trying out a new system so that we’re able to compete in these types of matches,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “The players adjusted well and are new to the system but we’re looking forward to seeing where it will take us.”
Wisconsin led the first set nearly the whole way, but the Wolverines never let the Badgers get more than four points ahead. Late in the set, Michigan went on a run led by junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik who had two late kills to send it to extras. But the Wolverines were unable to keep the momentum going despite putting up a fight.
“I liked our fight throughout the match,” Rosen said. “Our mentality and confidence was strong, (Wisconsin) was just a little steadier and more consistent.”
Unlike the first set, the second was dominated by the Badgers. Wisconsin commanded the net with their outside hitting duo of Julia Orzil and Sarah Franklin, who had 18 and 16 kills, respectively. The Wolverines struggled to match their vitality and aggressiveness, finding themselves down two sets to none.
There was a new sense of urgency in the third set and Michigan was able to get a much needed set win. The third set was a story of neither team gaining an edge. But the Wolverines’ fight kept them in the match and turned the momentum.
In a match where Wisconsin was plagued by their 12 service errors, Michigan senior opposite hitter May Pertofsky capitalized off the momentum and had six of her nine kills in the last two sets.
“A lot of my confidence and success comes from my setters,” Pertofsky said. “We’ve all worked hard in the gym and our connection has only gotten stronger as the season has gone on.”
The Wolverines controlled all the momentum going into the fourth set. But in another close battle where neither team could get much ground, the Badgers ended on a 4-0 run to finish the set and win the match.
“We just need to make sure we’re playing clean and staying confident as a team,” Pertofsky said. “Just making sure we get our reps in practice and show what we learn in the games.”
In a strong Big Ten conference, Michigan hopes to find success by continuing to battle and bring the same effort as its third set victory. The players and coaches are hoping to quickly develop their newfound connections to each game.
“I like where our team is right now,” Rosen said. “And we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”