The ball was set perfectly above Minnesota outside hitter Alexis Hart, as she wound up for the first of many slashing swings. The ball darted toward the open court on Michigan’s side until senior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom’s hand popped the ball up. She used all of her 6-foot-1 frame to keep the point alive.
It was a play that she and the rest of the Wolverines made multiple times throughout the match.
Despite its effort, the Michigan volleyball team (13-7 overall, 6-4 Big Ten) was unable to overcome the juggernaut No. 7 Minnesota Gophers (15-3, 9-1). The Wolverines’ heart showed as they started the match winning the first two sets, but the Gophers fought their way back, proving their dominance by sweeping the final three sets.
“I’m really proud of how hard we played,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “I’m proud of how aggressive we played. And I’m proud of how much we’ve improved over the last week, in the last month, in the last two and a half months.”
The first two sets saw the Wolverines taking blow after blow from Minnesota and responding to each one with equal energy. The Wolverines were on track to pull off their first win against a top-25 team at home since last October.
Michigan sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones and Minnesota’s Alexis Hart traded kills in the first two sets, combining for 26. However, things changed as Jones ended the set with only a .226 hitting percentage while Hart continue to dominate with a .310.
“Hart did a really nice job,” Rosen said. “She was going over the block at a lot of times. And so then defensively it’s hard to set up … because now you can’t dig the whole back line and the whole sideline. If she can go over the block, that’s all open to her. … It creates a different dynamic.”
Jones, on the other hand, struggled to keep her attacks going due to the increasing effectiveness of Minnesota’s blocking throughout the match. This began to affect the entire team.
“So anytime you can get the setter off the net and on the run, you change the defensive dynamic and the offensive dynamic, and it really hurts the offensive team,” Rosen said. “They did that really well. So in the second set, the third set, our passing numbers went down. They’re blocking numbers went up. And those two things are tied together.”
Michigan’s effort kept consistent, but was nullified by the Gophers’ skill and strategy. It would’ve been nice to think that Michigan had a chance, but in reality they were just barely holding off this tough Minnesota team.
The Wolverines kept fighting after dropping the third and fourth sets, managing to keep things close. Michigan allowed a 6-0 Minnesota run in the fifth set, but managed to tie things up, 13-13. But once again, Minnesota’s attacks were too much and the Gophers won the final set, 15-13.
“But, you know, we are really competitive group and they work really, really hard,” Rosen said. “And so they’re not looking for moral victories.”
It’s hard not to credit a great performance like Michigan put on, but Rosen brought up a good point — effort doesn’t matter as much if the team doesn’t win.