After a difficult first set in which the No. 23 Michigan volleyball team unexpectedly lost to Colgate, the Wolverines needed a big play to separate themselves from the Raiders. With the set tied at 18, sophomore libero Jenna Lerg served the ball. Players watched as it shot off her hand, and they began to hit back and forth until Colgate outside hitter Katie Stebbins jumped to spike the ball to the Wolverines’ side.

Senior middle blocker Abby Cole and sophomore outside hitter Carly Skjodt knew their task. The two players anchor Michigan’s offense, leading the team with enthusiasm from their positions in the front row.

Saturday night, the duo combined for a powerful block, giving the Wolverines a lead they would not relinquish en route to a set and eventual 3-1 match victory over Colgate at Cliff Keen Arena.

Skjodt finished with seven kills, five digs and two block assists, despite leaving the final set due to a leg injury. In Friday night’s game against Auburn, she notched eight kills and nine digs. As a sophomore on a team with seven new freshmen, Skjodt has found herself in a leadership role.

“We had a huge freshman class, but as sophomores we still know the ‘Michigan way,’ ” Skjodt said. “(We tell the freshmen) what we’re supposed to do and help them through.”

With the help of her strength and conditioning coach Mike Favre, Skjodt spent the winter and spring terms in the weight room improving her physicality and strength. And it looks like her work is beginning to pay off. Skjodt averages 2.79 kills per game — 0.91 more than last year — and improved her attacking accuracy by .63.

Her coach and teammates have noticed her efforts. Michigan coach Mark Rosen emphasized her tremendous physicality and versatility on the floor, while Cole detailed Skjodt’s passion for competition. After their dynamic block, the duo high-fived and embraced their teammates.

“She’s touching higher. (She is) more physical with everything she does, and she’s hitting the ball harder so it’s allowing her to compete in those situations,” Rosen said. “One of the things we look for in her on the court is her full game. She’s a six-rotation, five-skill-set type player who can do everything.”

Added Cole: “(What stands out is) her ability to compete . . . she’s coming in and competing her hardest every single match. She’s just doing a very good job of competing and I think that’s an edge that we haven’t always had on our team.”

Though Skjodt is just a sophomore, she has asserted her status as a veteran teammate throughout Michigan’s non-conference schedule. Even from the sideline, she could be seen yelling words of encouragement and giving high-fives as players returned to the bench.

Heading into Big Ten play — a conference that both Cole and Rosen termed the most difficult in the country —  the Wolverines will look to Skjodt to help mentor the younger players through vocal leadership during games.

And if she continues this guidance and continues her physical presence at the net, it bodes well for Michigan’s future this season. 

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