A sense of dread crept through Crisler Center in the middle of the first set.

The No. 12 Michigan volleyball team faced a 14-9 deficit to No. 7 Wisconsin, with seemingly no momentum or chance to fight back into the set. The Badgers had stifled the Wolverines’ attack to that point, denying them time and time again as they attacked through the left side.

Facing a top-10 team with injuries to two key members of the starting lineup, junior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom and redshirt junior middle blocker Cori Crocker, there was a feeling this one could get away from Michigan early.

Then, senior outside hitter Carly Skjodt happened.

Due to a rotation in the lineup, Skjodt started to position herself in the center of the court after beginning the game on the left side. This rotation sparked an exhilarating 16-4 run, as the Wolverines came back from the early deficit to take the first set, 25-18.

“She’s been our most dominant player in all aspects of the game for honestly the entire season,” said senior libero Jenna Lerg. “She’s done a great job recently of putting the team on her back and I’m really honored to play next to her.”

After Michigan dropped the next two sets — 25-16 and 25-22 — it once again felt like Wisconsin was closing in on the Wolverines, especially after it rallied from a 22-20 deficit to claim the third set with five straight points in a crucial period of the match.  

But late in the fourth set, with Michigan facing a 21-18 deficit and the match on the line, Skjodt stepped up to serve. All of a sudden, the next seven points were in the Wolverines’ favor to take the set, 25-21,  as they tied up the match going into the deciding set after yet another frantic rally spurred by Skjodt.

Michigan ultimately dropped a heartbreaker, losing the fifth set, 15-1. But it was hard to not be enthralled with the performance put on by Skjodt, who is coming off recent back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

Skjodt finished the match with an astounding 71 swings on the evening, 25 more than the next highest total of 46 notched by freshman outside hitter Paige Jones. She had 27 kills on those 71 attempts for a hitting percentage of .268, second-highest on the team despite being the primary focus of the Badgers’ defense all night.

“She’s a warrior right now. She’s taking so many swings for us, way more than we’d like, and way more than she’d like,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “She’s producing, and so we’ve got to get her the ball. To beat the elite teams, you have to have balance to what you do, and I think that Carly is doing everything that she can do right now. She’s a great competitor.”

With the recent injury to Wetterstrom and the continued absence of Crocker, the performance of Skjodt has allowed the Wolverines to remain in the heat of the Big Ten conference race amid a relentless schedule in arguably the most competitive conference in the NCAA.

Skjodt has been the anchor of the offense all season for Michigan, leading the team in total kills (302), kills per set (4.14) and swings attempted (823), all while maintaining a hitting percentage of .281.

The schedule only gets tougher from here on out for the Wolverines, with upcoming road tests against Indiana and No. 7 Wisconsin before returning home to face Maryland and No. 9 Nebraska.

If she continues along this path, Skjodt will remain the key for Michigan in holding its ground against conference rivals.

“She’s a great leader, and a great volleyball player,” Rosen said. “She’s trying to carry as much of a load as she can, and she loves being in that role because she wants the team to win.

“It’s never about Carly, it’s all about ‘How can I help the team win?’”

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