EAST LANSING — “Peaceful” is not typically a word associated with rivalry games. To senior middle blocker Jess Robinson, though, that’s exactly how it felt.
Coming off two straight losses to highly ranked teams, the No. 24 Michigan volleyball team (13-4 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) found peace in the huddle against Michigan State (10-8, 1-6), utilizing that composure to best the Spartans in every category en route to a 3-0 sweep.
“I think it was really awesome, really good for our team that we had Michigan State up next because it really kept us focused and kept us from not getting down in the past week,” Robinson said.
Despite the heckles and boos from a record 7,326-person crowd packed into the Breslin Center, the Wolverines remained calm and collected. The first set began with back and forth action until Michigan created a 3-0 scoring run to take the lead, 11-8.
The Wolverine’s blockers and hitters consistently created pressure that left the Spartans scrambling. As Michigan State struggled to get the ball over the net, Michigan moved through its routines effortlessly and claimed the first set, 25-17.
The momentum stayed squarely with the Wolverines throughout the majority of the second set. Michigan went on three separate three-point scoring runs and never allowed more than two consecutive Spartan points.
“We train with runs in mind,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “We want to be the one creating runs versus the one giving up runs.”
Even though the Wolverines avoided giving up runs, Michigan State managed to make a comeback late in the second set, taking a 21-20 lead on two consecutive kills. What began as a dominant set for Michigan quickly became a dramatic battle of which team could compose itself long enough to win by two.
Tied at 28, the Wolverines emerged from the huddle with confidence. First, Robinson executed a perfect cross-court kill. On the next point, senior middle blocker May Pertofsky took advantage of an out-of-formation Spartan team and placed the final dagger in between its blockers — one kill of a season-high 12 in the game.
“I thought they seemed really steady,” Rosen said. “In a two point deuce game that’s going back and forth, especially with this environment, you can kind of get distracted or get nervous. I thought they just stayed very calm, very composed.”
Although the end of the third set was almost as tumultuous as the second, with Michigan State tying the set 20-20 in the final minutes, Michigan once again kept its cool. Facing set point leading 24-21, the Wolverines allowed a Spartan kill. But on the next game-winning play, Robinson left no room for error as she attacked the net, arms raised to tally her eighth block of the night — her season high.
In the midst of adversity, Michigan found peace and connection, and emerged with a much needed victory as a result.