How do you bounce back from the toughest loss of the season in one of the most highly-anticipated matches of this year?
The No. 16 Michigan volleyball team (3-2 Big Ten, 14-2 overall) answered that question in resounding fashion on Friday night, grabbing a dominant, straight-set home victory over No. 14 Purdue (2-3, 13-3), 25-15, 25-16 and 25-14. The win over the Boilermakers came just five days after the Wolverines were handed their first home defeat of the season, a straight-set loss to No. 9 Penn State.
Playing in the familiar compounds of Cliff Keen Arena, Michigan jumped on Purdue from the very beginning of the match and cruised to its first victory of the season against a ranked opponent. Some familiar faces led the way for the Wolverines on Friday night, with senior outside hitter Carly Skjodt and freshman outside hitter Paige Jones leading the team with 11 kills each.
In addition, junior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom came up with arguably her best performance of the season, notching 10 kills on 12 attempts for a sparkling .833 hitting percentage. The trio of Skjodt, Jones and Wetterstrom combined for 39.5 points on the day, 6.5 better than the team total of 33 for the Boilermakers.
“Cliff Keen is a place where we are able to work hard together, on and off the court,” Skjodt said. “The stands and the fans in the stands are a big part of that. They know when to get loud and rowdy, and they know when to pull it back a little bit. I think that’s one thing that really attracted me to this school, even while going through recruiting, was the fan base and how passionate they are to represent Michigan.”
As has happened time and time again, the defense came through with a dominating performance by stifling the Purdue attack early and never allowing it to gain any sort of point-scoring momentum.
The Wolverines came into the match ranked fifth in the country and second in the Big Ten in holding opponents to a .144 hitting percentage. They limited fifth-year senior outside hitter Sherridan Atkinson, who came into the match leading the Big Ten with 4.25 kills per set, to only three kills on 16 total attempts throughout the match for the Boilermakers. Senior libero Jenna Lerg once again spearheaded the defensive performance, pacing all players with 16 digs. Skjodt added another seven from her outside spot, and junior setter MacKenzi Welsh followed up with six of her own.
“We’re able to use the energy (of the home fans) and take that with us when we’re up by a lot. It was still fun to play, and we appreciate how the fans don’t get quiet when we’re well ahead, which allows us to keep rolling,” said Wetterstrom. “That’s part of what has made this year so much fun, and we’re hoping that it only continues.”
After losses to the first two ranked opponents that it faced in conference play, the victory on Friday night was a welcome sight for Michigan and its coaching staff.
“(After the Penn State match), the girls were pointing out in the locker room that ‘we need to be better in these areas.’ They were solution-minded, and I think when anyone can do that, they’re moving in the right direction,” said Michigan coach Mike Rosen. “(Associate head coach Leisa Rosen) did a great job of putting them in pressure situations this week in practice, which helped us for this match.
“This is a talented team, and these guys believe that, which was a big key for us this week, and it will remain that way for the rest of the season.”