In the cyclical nature of college volleyball, good players come and go. Coaches recruit their next batch of talent, rosters adjust and teams move on.
But program cornerstones don’t come along nearly as often, and even the best teams struggle to fill the shoes left by such departures.
For the Michigan volleyball team, the close of the 2018 season marked the end of outside hitter Carly Skjodt and libero Jenna Lerg’s storied careers. Skjodt finished her tenure with the seventh-most kills in program history, while Lerg moved into second place on the program’s all-time digs list.
The void left by their production won’t be easy to fill, to say the least.
Even so, that’s just what Michigan spent the spring trying to do. The graduation of Skjodt and Lerg opens up starting spots at outside hitter and libero, creating healthy competition within the program.
That was on full display when the Wolverines made their 10th trip to the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame Showcase, an annual spring tournament featuring Michigan, Michigan State, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. The Wolverines dispatched the Chippewas and Broncos in the afternoon before taking the court against the Spartans.
Last November, Michigan swept the season series with a pair of four-set victories against its in-state conference foe. In their first glimpse of Michigan State’s 2019 roster, the Wolverines triumphed in five-set fashion in front of a full house.
“We went to battle,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen on the Rosen Report, his monthly video. “It was a great match. I thought both teams were very evenly-matched … It was a great way to finish our spring. Instead of playing some fun no-meaning match, it was a match that felt like a Big Ten match — good opponent, good atmosphere, a lot of pressure. Our players responded well.”
Rising senior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom stood out all spring long and, fittingly, delivered a strong performance against the Spartans despite a shaky start.
Wetterstrom missed 11 matches in her junior season, but proved to be a reliable offensive option when available. She recorded eight double-digit kill performances and posted a .220 attack percentage on the right side, earning her first double-double against Rutgers and a career-high .883 kill clip against Purdue along the way.
“(Wetterstrom) has played a lot but her role is different now because she’s a senior and the expectations are different of what she needs to carry,” Rosen said. “I thought she advanced so much throughout this whole spring. A great example was the match against Michigan State … She struggled in the first set but still found ways to impact the match in a really positive way with her passing and blocking. And then as she started getting into the match a little bit more, then all of a sudden we noticed she was making a pretty positive impact offensively and by the end she was playing great.
“That’s a skill to be able to recover that throughout the day. A lot of players start hot and keep that going or start bad and don’t ever recover it, but she was able to learn how to recover it. Good strides for her.”
This season, Rosen could call upon Wetterstrom to make the jump to outside hitter. Slotting her at the left pin alongside rising sophomore Paige Jones, who tallied a team-best 38 kills at the showcase, would allow rising senior Katarina Glavinic to be the Wolverines’ full-time opposite hitter.
After starting last season on the bench, the 6-foot-3 Croatian transfer from Seattle University played a key role in Michigan’s tournament run. She posted four block assists in the tournament’s opening round against Navy before recording a season-high five total blocks in the Wolverines’ upset of host Pittsburgh to reach the Sweet 16.
This spring, Glavinic picked up right where she left off.
“This spring (was) a huge development for (Glavinic),” Rosen said. “She’s taken her game to a whole other level and throughout the spring was probably our best point-scorer. In the match against Michigan State, she proved to be that. She started well and finished even better, and I thought she did a really nice job throughout the match. To see players like those coming along and developing, that’s what spring is all about.”
While Glavinic and Wetterstrom appear poised to contribute offensively in Skjodt’s absence, rising junior Natalie Smith made a strong impression at libero. She recorded a team-high 30 digs at the showcase and represented Michigan on the Big Ten Volleyball Japan Tour, signaling her status as Lerg’s successor.
Skjodt and Lerg can’t be replaced overnight, but seeing strong springs from Smith, Glavinic and Wetterstrom is an encouraging sign for the Wolverines.