Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen believes his team will use its most recent loss as a learning experience.
Rosen quoted a long-standing expression when discussing the Wolverines’ loss to Penn State on Wednesday.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Rosen said. “(The loss is) not gonna kill us — it’s a volleyball game.”
The 23rd-ranked Wolverines (5-4 Big Ten, 15-5 overall) fell to No. 5 Penn State (7-2, 18-2) in five sets at Cliff Keen Arena on Wednesday. The team lost in the first set before notching victories in the second and third sets, and ultimately dropping the final two.
On a positive note for Michigan, its core players returned to the court for the first time in several games. Sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Knop played for the first time since the Wolverines’ victory over Michigan State on Oct. 3. Senior defensive specialist Tiffany Morales also returned to action after missing the previous game against Maryland.
“Because of some injuries, we haven’t had the same lineup very much in the past few weeks,” Rosen said. “That’s part of having depth.”
Rosen utilized many players throughout the match, including Knop in her natural defensive position despite using her as an outside hitter for parts of the last two seasons.
“It was fantastic to be out there,” Knop said. “We did a great job of mixing (the positions) up.”
Despite the loss, Knop and junior middle blocker Abby Cole expressed optimism regarding the team’s performance. Michigan played its hardest-fought match against a ranked team this season — they had previously fallen to then-No. 20 Purdue and then-No. 4 Nebraska in three and four sets, respectively.
This time, the Wolverines faced a mature Nittany Lions team that kept fighting, even after losing two sets in a row. Penn State scored the first three points in overtime and cruised to a 15-7 victory in the fifth set.
“They came out and absolutely punched us in the face,” Knop said. “That’s something we gotta get better at. In the locker room, we talk about winning fifth sets.”
Rosen explained that the team spent the last few days practicing point scoring, defensive drills and points in transition. Much to Rosen’s disappointment, it was not nearly enough time.
But the coach chose to look at his team’s loss through a positive lens. Instead of focusing on the negative, he hopes to build from the hard-fought match.
“You get better when you’re playing those tough matches,” he said. “We can’t create that in practice.”
The loss only motivates the team as No. 6 Ohio State visits Cliff Keen Arena on Saturday. The game has implications not only because both Michigan and the Buckeyes are ranked, but also because of the rivalry between the two teams. Ohio State leads the series, 52-20.
Players like Knop eagerly await the Buckeyes.
“We cannot wait to get them in our house,” she said. “We have to absolutely attack people.”
Rosen and his team will take many lessons from Wednesday night’s game against such a challenging team. They will go back to practice to fine-tune the same aspects they have worked on in the days since their last game.
And after a little more improvement, they may be strong enough to get past their tough Big Ten competition.