The Michigan volleyball team is undefeated no more.
After consecutive three-set sweeps to start the Panther Invitational, the Wolverines lost a heartbreaker to the hosting Pittsburgh team in the fifth set.
The loss ended a weekend that Michigan began with a rout of American, which was outmatched by the Wolverines’ surging offense that opened the match with a .394 first-set kill percentage and finished with an even more impressive .417 in the third.
Senior front-hitter Carly Skjodt, who has had an increasingly important role in the offense, racked up 11 kills. Senior captain Abby Cole also continued to impress, adding eight kills at a whopping .636 percent while notching three blocks as well.
Though Michigan won again in straight sets in its next match, against Coastal Carolina, it was far more competitive than the matchup with the Eagles.
The Chanticleers played strong defense, holding the Wolverines to a .208 kill percentage for the match, but Michigan brought some defensive firepower of its own. Junior center Claire Kieffer-Wright contributed five blocks while the team notched 12 total.
Yet the Wolverines still had work to do. In a third set that included 17 ties and 10 lead changes, Michigan held on to secure the win and move to 8-0 on the season.
Skjodt had another impressive performance with 13 kills and two blocks. Redshirt senior Kelly Murphy had 10 blocks with a solid .400 hitting percentage as well.
In the third, and final, game of the weekend, the Wolverines were challenged in a way that they haven’t been all season. With home-court advantage, the Panthers were determined to halt Michigan’s momentum.
Pittsburgh came out strong, winning the first set 25-22 in a shot-for-shot battle, which was foreboding of the remainder of the match.
The Wolverines responded in the second set, holding the Panthers to a .000 kill percentage, as Pittsburgh’s 11 second-set kills were countered by 11 errors, giving Michigan ample room to exploit mistakes.
Sophomore Jenna Lerg had a phenomenal weekend defensively, setting her career high in digs against the Panthers with 39. But in a loss, Lerg was not satisfied with how she, and the rest of the team, performed in the match.
“To be honest, I did not feel good about the match at all,” Lerg said. “I may have set a career high in digs, however I do not think we played well in the times that we needed to. There are definitely some plays in there that we should have made, and plays that we gave to [Pittsburgh]. We need to be better at being clutch in the moments we needed to.”
The rest of the match was just as close, as the two teams traded sets throughout. The Panthers won the third set, 28-26, while Michigan won the fourth, 25-20. Ultimately, though, the Wolverines dropped an 8-6 lead to lose the fifth-set tiebreaker, 15-12.
Lerg posted a career high with 39 digs, Skjodt had 15 kills and freshman setter MacKenzie Walsh tallied 53 assists and 19 digs (both career highs) in the loss.
But Captain Abby Cole echoed what Lerg said, stressing how little these statistics matter to the team without the win.
“I’m not one to look at stats,” Cole said. “But after a loss, you can have the best individual performance of your life, but not coming out with that win is what really sticks. I just want to do as much as I can to make sure that we get the win next time.”
Coach Mark Rosen took an optimistic look at the loss. According to Rosen, the challenge against Pittsburgh was exactly what the team needed before moving on to an extremely difficult Big Ten schedule.
“Good to see how we were doing well and what we need to work on,” Rosen said. It’s tough to lose the first match of the year, but this is our time to rebound and learn from it.”
Rosen later added: “We are nowhere near close to the top of our abilities so we just can continue working to get better. Our goal is to compete at the highest level and exceed expectations.”