With the Michigan volleyball team (2-4 Big Ten, 12-6 overall) facing match point against No. 6 Minnesota, senior outside hitter Adeja Lambert tracked the ball, soaring into the air and connecting her hand to the ball with sheer force.
Her spike flew straight into the net.
She looked down at the floor in disappointment as the Golden Gophers’ cheers washed over the otherwise quiet Cliff Keen Arena.
Suddenly, Michigan had lost its third set — and the match.
Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines were swept by No. 6 Minnesota (4-2, 14-2), losing 25-21, 25-21, 25-20. It was their first home loss of the season.
Despite the sweep, Michigan appeared to have victory in its clutches in all three sets. It held several large leads, including a 17-12 advantage in the first set and a seemingly insurmountable 16-8 lead in the second set. For large stretches, the Wolverines looked tremendous, dominating one of the best teams in the nation.
But the Wolverines never capitalized on those leads.
“We have to get better,” said coach Mark Rosen. “We don’t have to get monumentally better, but we’ve got to get better. Especially when it really matters — in the crunch points, at key times.”
Toward the ends of sets, Michigan wilted while Minnesota flourished.
In the first set, Minnesota won six of the last seven points.
In the third set, the Golden Gophers scored the last five points.
These two massive runs were both fueled by a combination of stifling defense from Minnesota, who stuffed the Wolverines with 14 blocks, and what Rosen called a one-dimensional Michigan attack.
“We’ve got to have more options and use more options,” Rosen said. “I thought we did that early on in sets but I think when it got late, we got a little more predictable.”
There were moments, though, when the Wolverines did utilize their role players well, such as senior opposite hitter Katherine Mahlke.
Mahlke’s left-handed strikes added a much-needed variety to the Michigan attack, temporarily confusing the Minnesota blockers. Midway through the second set, she pounded a kill down the middle of the court to halt a seven-point run for the Gophers. Mahlke had three kills on just four attempts, leading the Wolverines with an excellent attack percentage of 0.750.
However, her performance was indicative of her entire team’s performance — good, but not good enough.
Going forward, Rosen believes he can solve his team’s late-game issues.
“Balance is gonna be really important for us moving forward,” he said. “That’s what’s gonna help us close games out.”