The Michigan volleyball team (17-7 overall, 10-4 Big Ten) took on Illinois (12-11, 7-7) for the second time in eight days on Saturday in Cliff Keene Arena and emerged with a similar outcome to last Friday’s bout in Champaign — a victory in four sets.
Despite winning, Wolverines’ coach Mark Rosen didn’t let the results get to his players’ heads.
“It’s sometimes hard to play a team back to back like that or close together,” Rosen said. “When you win, the team that loses learns more. The team that wins thinks ‘OK, we did it last time, it’ll be easy this time, and it’s never easy. I thought our team came in really focused and didn’t take it for granted and I thought played really well.”
The Fighting Illini stole the third set from Michigan, but each point for the Wolverines was hard-fought and the score was extremely close throughout the series.
In set one, Michigan led for the majority of the set, but Illinois was never too far behind, trailing by no more than three points throughout the first half of the set.
The Fighting Illini closed the gap and tied the game at 16. The rest of the set was neck-and-neck, but Michigan stayed ahead the entire set. Eventually, the Wolverines ended the set with a block from senior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom and freshman middle blocker May Pertrofsky.
Michigan set the tone with aggressive serves in the first set, but that did not come without consequence — the Wolverines missed 13 serves by the end of the match.
“I thought we stayed very aggressive with our serving and kept them off balance,” Rosen said. “In the first set, we missed quite a few serves yet we were serving super tough, which we knew we had to. I’m really proud of the team for staying with it.”
The second set started similarly to the first one with Michigan maintaining a slight lead. But, in the second half of the set, the Wolverines widened the gap with a total of 18 kills. This enabled Michigan to shut down the Fighting Illini in the second half of set and emerge with a 25-23 win.
The third set proved to be a challenge for the Wolverines. Both teams went back and forth throughout the set, tying the score up frequently. Michigan struggled against the Fighting Illini’s large presence at the net — Illinois finished the game with four blocks while Michigan had none.
An ace from the Fighting Illini gave them the lead over Michigan, 20-16, the most the Wolverines would fall behind the entire match. Michigan fought back to bring the score to 24-23, but an attack error on an overpass ended the set with an Illinois victory, 25-23.
In the fourth set, the Wolverines re-established themselves at the net and smooth out the mistakes from the third set. The Fighting Illini took a two point lead early in the set, but Michigan fought back hard. The Wolverines took a commanding lead in the second half the set and finished off the match with 25-18 victory.
Redshirt senior middle blocker Cori Crocker attributed the win to the high stakes of the game and the ability of her teammates to rise to the challenge.
“Being here at home and knowing how much we needed this win and knowing how bad they wanted it, it ramped it up that much more,” Crocker said. “People were just playing so free. If it was a off-ball, people were ripping. Everybody was going as hard as they possibly could, giving absolutely everything.
“Even though the points were tight, we felt like we were in control.”