The enthusiasm seemed infectious Wednesday night in Cliff Keen Arena as the Michigan women’s volleyball team took the lead over No. 5 Penn State during the second and third sets.
The 23rd-ranked Wolverines set forward an offensive initiative during the second set, and the teams remained intensely close for the majority of the match. Smart offensive plays by Michigan and small defensive mistakes by the Nittany Lions ended up swinging the set in the Wolverines’ favor, 25-22.
Michigan took the third set as well, but it was unable to maintain its intensity for the rest of the match. The Nittany Lions ultimately rallied to pick up a hard-fought victory, 3-2.
The Wolverines may not have been able to hold on for the upset, but they thrived on the experience.
“We love those situations,” said junior middle blocker Abby Cole. “A five-set match against a team like Penn State, that’s an awesome place to be.”
Cole set the pace during the second set and continued it throughout the rest of the match, ending with a total of 14 kills.
The third set favored Michigan as well, with senior setter Carly Warner proving to be a valuable asset to the success of the team. Warner had a solid 29 assists with a single kill, helping turn out another set for the Wolverines, 25-18, to put them in the lead, two sets to one.
The first and fourth sets turned out to be strikingly similar, with Michigan initially leading, only for Penn State to regroup defensively and retaliate with some hard hits of their own by senior outside hitter Aiyana Whitney, who led the game offensively with 18 kills and 40 total attacks.
The Nittany Lions claimed the first set, outscoring the Wolverines 25-18. The fourth set proved to be a bit more challenging thanks to Michigan’s defense, which hung with the Nittany Lions until a late run secured a 25-20 Penn State victory.
In the fifth and final set, both teams were visibly geared up for a battle. Penn State took up a solid defensive strategy in the back row unleashed a strong attack, which the Wolverines couldn’t seem to keep a hold on.
Despite Penn State’s attack, two defensive players managed to keep Michigan afloat during the fifth set — sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Knop and senior defensive specialist Lindsey Lerg. Despite their strong defense, the Wolverines fell in the fifth set, 15-7, with the Nittany Lions taking home the win.
“We talk about fifth sets all time in our locker room,” Knop said. “We talk about winning those. We’re going to be in dog fights for the remaining 11 games of our season this year, and we talk about that all the time.”
Michigan’s next game will be Saturday at Cliff Keen Arena against No. 6 Ohio State. Michigan coach Mark Rosen praised his team’s performance against Penn State, claiming that the experience helped the team mature, though it didn’t end with a win.
“Maturity comes with experience,” Rosen said. “To gain experience, I think tonight was a great learning opportunity for us. We’ll be in this situation a lot more over the next month, and I assume we’ll continue to get better and better in those situations, and we’ll end up on the other side.”