Holding onto a 3-0 record from its season opener, the Michigan volleyball team had high expectations to deliver the same quality performance at the Kansas State Invitational. The Wolverines didn’t disappoint, as they advanced to 6-0 after claiming victories over Tennessee State, Kansas State and Georgia Tech.
Despite dropping their first set of the season against the host Wildcats, Michigan rallied for a four-set victory, 25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 25-22. Fifth-year senior outside hitter Kelly Murphy highlighted the offense with a career-high 21 kills and a .455 attack percentage. Senior middle blocker Abby Cole followed closely behind with 17 kills and a .333 attack percentage. The Wolverines totaled 59 kills out of 151 total attacks for a .311 total attack percentage.
But it was Michigan’s ability to avoid mistakes and capitalize on strengths that really separated it from Kansas State.
“We were very low-error,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We kept a lot of stuff in play, and if things weren’t perfect, we didn’t make them worse. We tended to make them better. A lot of the time, with the teams we played this weekend, the difference in score was error, because we tried to stay pretty clean.”
Michigan’s performance against Georgia Tech was oriented more toward consistency and defense rather than offense. The Wolverines’ defense only allowed Georgia Tech a .094 attack average while topping the Yellow Jackets in four sets, 25-16, 25-17, 19-25, 25-22. Michigan reached a season-high 72 digs, along with 12 team blocks.
Cole reached a career-high total with nine digs, while sophomore libero Jenna Lerg recorded a season-high 23.
In the third and final match of the invitational, the Wolverines tallied their best average attack percentage since 2012, a .444 against Tennessee State, streamlined by redshirt sophomore middle blocker Cori Crocker. She led the team with 10 kills and contributed a .529 attack average.
“We’ve been working with Cori to try and develop her offense,” Rosen said. “She’s a very good blocker and good on the defensive side of stuff, but we haven’t really been able to utilize her as much offensively. In the match against Tennessee State, she led in kills and and hit over .500, so that was a great breakout match for her offensively. If we can get her more involved offensively, that’s going to be a good thing.”
Murphy and junior right-side hitter Katherine Mahlke both contributed offensively as well, with seven and nine kills, respectively.
Lopsided scores of 25-7 and 25-14 in favor of Michigan during the first two sets allowed some of its younger athletes experience, including freshman setter Katerina Rocafort and freshman outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom, who tallied six kills.
“We’re still trying to give people opportunities to see how they play in games and see what they do in practice,” Rosen said. “We track that really closely, but we still want to see how they respond in game situations. Today, when we shuffled things around and made changes, the level didn’t really drop off. In lots of ways, it actually improved, and I think that’s a great sign of depth.”
If the Wolverines can continue to expose their freshmen to the offensive mentality they have been highlighting, then Michigan shouldn’t have a problem fielding experience and depth at the Panther Invitational next weekend — and maybe tack on three more wins to their record.