Midway through the first set, Ohio State coach Jeff Carlston called a timeout. The Michigan volleyball team had taken a five-point lead and was dominating offensively, notching six of the previous seven points. Perhaps most crucially, senior setter MacKenzi Welsh had already tallied nine assists.
The timeout would make little difference for the Buckeyes (8-6 overall, 1-1 Big Ten), as the Wolverines (9-3 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) rolled to a 25-14 first set win Sunday at the Crisler Center. Welsh finished the set with 14 assists en route to a dominant performance. Her 36 assists were two more than everyone else on the floor combined, and her efforts as a setup artist were central to the Wolverines’ offensive success in a match that they controlled from start to finish.
“(Welsh is) a very, very smart setter,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “She’s got a great skill set, and she’s very skilled and very experienced.”
The experience that Welsh brings is also crucial to the Wolverines’ patient, disciplined style of play. Michigan only tallied 12 errors over the entire match, compared to Ohio State’s 21. The Wolverines put themselves in positions to score by rotating the ball consistently and effectively, avoiding mistakes and forcing the Buckeyes to make plays.
“Consistency is something we’ve been working on with myself and across the board,” Welsh said. “So knowing that whatever I do, somebody else is going to make it better. … Everyone is just going to work hard to get the ball put away and work towards the next point.”
Part of what made Welsh so effective was the wealth of offensive weapons around her. Sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones led the team with 14 kills, all of which came off assists from Welsh. Senior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom and freshman outside hitter May Pertofsky added ten and nine kills of their own, respectively.
“It’s really cool to go up there and have fantastic passers working really hard,” Welsh said. “And to be able to have fantastic hitters just go up and take incredible swings and get amazing kills every single point.”
Added Rosen: “The options that (Welsh) has in every rotation are pretty awesome. It makes it easier for her in some ways, but she also has to make a lot of decisions, and I think she’s making a lot of really good decisions right now.”
Welsh also contributed on defense, tallying a solid seven digs — second on the team behind junior libero Natalie Smith — but her elite setting and unselfishness on offense are what separated her from the pack.
“That’s an art,” Rosen said. “And it’s a very good skill that she’s honed over the last 10 years of her life, to be an elite level setter.”