The Michigan volleyball team has had a relatively easy start to its season, especially in comparison to its Big Ten Conference foes.
And senior middle blocker Jess Robinson has capitalized on the weaker blocking she has faced, tallying kill after kill at an impressive rate.
“Jess Robinson has been killing it,” junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik said after a win against North Carolina. “She has one of the best hitting percentages in the NCAA right now, so just seeing her do her thing … has just been awesome.”
Robinson is currently leading the nation in hitting percentage at a .539 clip.
For context, Robinson’s hitting percentage means that over half of her attempts are points for the Wolverines. Her consistency is boosting Michigan to a top-ten national hitting percentage at .301, good for second in the Big Ten, only behind Northwestern.
Robinson is exploding in her senior season. She set a new personal record in kills with 15 against Loyola Chicago, topping her previous best of 11. But Robinson’s success isn’t out of nowhere.
“It’s been so amazing to see her grow,” Mruzik said. “I’ve played with her since I played club, … so it’s been really cool to be able to experience that, and just watch her kill it like I know she always has been able to.”
Robinson has played in every match since arriving in Ann Arbor in 2019. That year, her statline was highlighted by a .316 hitting percentage, good for fifth on the team and second-best out of the players who had at least 25 total attempts. She also had seven matches with double-digit kills and at least four blocks, and led the team in blocks 13 times — the most out of any player. Her rookie performance earned her a spot on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
In her COVID-shortened sophomore season, Robinson played in all 51 sets and started all 13 matches for Michigan. Her .313 hitting percentage was second on the team, trailing only fellow then-sophomore opposite hitter May Pertofsky’s .319 clip.
In her junior season, Robinson’s hitting percentage dropped slightly to a .285 clip. However, her blocking improved to rank second on the team, notching 98 on the season — including seven solo blocks.
Robinson’s leap in hitting percentage this season — a .254 jump — can partially be attributed to the Wolverines not starting Big Ten play yet.
But Robinson isn’t slowing down as Michigan’s schedule strengthens. She tallied several perfect hitting sets last weekend against two Power Five schools.
Her impressive skill set is evident on the defensive end as well. Poor blocking has been costly for the Wolverines, even with Robinson leading the team with seven block assists against Duke.
When Michigan follows Robinson’s lead at the net, that results in matches like its 3-0 sweep against North Carolina. When Robinson and the other middle blockers can get up and in the face of opponents, that disrupts the flow of their offense and benefits the Wolverine defense.
As Michigan’s schedule gets tougher, with 2021 NCAA tournament team Mississippi State and MAC conference runner-up Bowling Green this weekend, that blocking will become even more important. The Big Ten Conference boasts some of the most lethal offensive threats in the country, so the ability for the Wolverine blockers to disrupt their opponents’ offense is crucial to success.
With Robinson leading by example against weaker non-conference opponents early in the season, Michigan is gaining valuable experience and finding success early. That defensive tenacity, powered in part by Robinson’s blocking, will be exceedingly valuable in tight games down the stretch.
On the offensive end, getting Robinson going in the middle is huge for Michigan opening up its attack, especially when the opposition is focused on stopping her. Robinson’s threat in the middle draws the defense’s attention to her, opening up room for her teammates to capitalize on the space at the net and generate points.
“It’s always really important for us to be able to establish the middle and the quick offense,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said after a win against North Carolina. “And she’s so good right now … As soon as our middle’s going, now everything else can feed off of that.”
Robinson’s attack in the middle has the potential to fuel the rest of the Wolverine offense, especially when she is combined with fellow senior setter Maddie Dowd.
“She did a good job,” Rosen said. “And also Maddie did a great job of setting her and we have those two working together for a reason, ’cause they work together really well,” Rosen said.
Robinson is hitting at an incredible clip, with the help from Dowd’s assists and a tenacious Wolverine defense. The rate at which she converts swings to points has played a crucial role in Michigan’s success thus far.
If she can keep it up in the Wolverines’ final weekend of non-conference play, Michigan will be well-equipped to take on the Big Ten.