The Michigan volleyball team was one set away from clinching a spot in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. But Creighton took an early lead in the fifth and final set that the Wolverines couldn’t overcome, and Michigan was eliminated from the tournament.
After a net violation was called on the Wolverines in the fifth set, the Bluejays were set up for the match point. It appeared Michigan thought the ensuing kill from Jaali Winters was going wide, but it clipped the sideline and simultaneously pulled the plug on the Wolverines’ season.
It was clear from the beginning that Creighton was in control of the match. Even though Michigan took the first set, the Bluejays ended the set with a .239 hitting percentage compared to the Wolverines .196.
“It became hard to stop them defensively because they were really balanced,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “They were better at getting kills and that’s usually a big difference in our game, because kills are points.”
The Wolverines struggled to score against a strong defense, which finished with 20 blocks. Michigan could only muster 12 blocks due to Creighton’s fast-paced offense.
In the third set, the Wolverines made the necessary corrections to easily take the set, 25-17. On the set point, senior middle blocker Abby Cole tipped the ball over the net, forcing a miscommunication on the Bluejays and giving Michigan the set.
The Wolverines trailed early in the last two sets, surrendering their 2-1 set lead. In the fourth set, Creighton led, 17-11, its largest lead of the match. After a lift was called on Michigan, Rosen called a timeout.
The Wolverines were then able to pull within four points, but after a long rally, it was Lauren Smith who forced the fifth set for the Bluejays.
With the fifth set only going to 15 points, it was important to get off to a hot start.
Unfortunately for Michigan, it made too many unforced errors to compete with Creighton. The Wolverines were down, 9-3, and they seemed hopeless.
It was fifth-year senior Kelly Murphy’s last volleyball match, and fortunately for her, it was one to remember. She finished with 17 kills and 13 digs, but her impact went beyond the scoresheet. As a leader of the team, she showed the underclassman how to not lose hope, even when faced with defeat.
In the waning moments of the fifth set, Cole re-entered the match. The Wolverines had all three captains on the court, and it was clear the team needed their guidance. Cole made a statement in those final points with two decisive kills. But it wasn’t enough to salvage the match, and Michigan fell in the fifth set, 15-7.
“I think our three seniors were phenomenal,” Rosen said. “They really brought so much to the table when it comes to how this team developed together. We talk a lot in our program about a growth mindset.
“Every game we’re going to get better. Every day, we’re going to follow the process and the outcome will take care of itself. And I thought this team stayed very true to that.”