Less than two weeks ago, on Oct. 29, the Michigan volleyball team traveled to Bloomington to take on Indiana and dropped the match, 3-1. Wednesday night, however, the Wolverines capitalized on their chance to even the score.
Junior middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright, fifth-year senior outside hitter Kelly Murphy and senior middle blocker Abby Cole notched 12, 10 and 9 kills, respectively, to lead No. 17 Michigan (10-5 Big Ten, 21-6 overall) to a 3-0 victory over Indiana (5-10, 16-11), exceeding its conference win total from last season.
“I think our team did a really good job of growing from that last match to this match,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We out-blocked them, out-defended them and I think across the board, we executed really well tonight.”
Though the Wolverines emerged victorious in all three sets, they did trail at some point in each one.
“When we get down, I always keep the glass half-full,” Kieffer-Wright said. “I just think about what I can do if I’m in the game to help (the) side out and get to the next point. If I’m on the bench, I’m looking for ways to help the players on the court.”
During the first set, Michigan quickly found itself trailing the Hoosiers, 5-1. But quality serving by freshman setter MacKenzi Welsh and strong performances by Kieffer-Wright and Cole propelled Michigan into a dogfight.
Indiana then called a timeout with the Wolverines ahead 15-14, but the move backfired for the Hoosiers, as Michigan seized all of the momentum and cruised to a 25-17 victory. The Wolverines even netted back-to-back service aces during their run.
“I think our coaches just tell us different adjustments to make (during the timeouts),” Cole said. “It’s a matter of making those when we come back in, and that’s really important. I think we did a really good job of that tonight.”
While Indiana drew first blood in set two, Michigan quickly recovered, taking advantage of Hoosier errors to race out to a 7-3 advantage before Indiana rallied to take a 10-9 lead. That was all before Kieffer-Wright came through with a kill, sparking a 9-2 run for the Wolverines.
The Hoosiers kept the pressure up the rest of the way, fighting their way to a 22-22 tie before Murphy made two consecutive kills and a block to ice the set for Michigan.
“We’re opposite of each other, so when one is doing well the other has to keep up,” Kieffer-Wright said, referring to Cole. “I think Abby did a really good job of doing that, and I think Kelly really took a big load on her shoulders tonight, too, as one of our really good pin hitters with blocking and hitting and just helping us side out when we really needed it.”
Indiana led for most of the beginning in the third set, eventually holding an 11-8 edge.
But kills by Kieffer-Wright and Murphy along with two Indiana errors put the Wolverines on top 12-11. Though Michigan rode that momentum to a 17-14 advantage, the Hoosiers proceeded to score four straight points before Rosen called a timeout.
The move paid off for the Wolverines, as Indiana committed a pair of attack errors to give Michigan back the lead. Murphy netted two more kills and the Wolverines took the third set, 25-21, clinching the match.
Though Michigan will certainly enjoy its revenge victory, the gauntlet ahead will limit the Wolverines’ celebrations.
Of the remaining teams on Michigan’s schedule, none are ranked lower than 15th in the nation and three of them — Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin — are ranked first through third, respectively. As if that weren’t enough, the Wolverines will have to face the Cornhuskers, Golden Gophers and Badgers on the road.
But Rosen emphatically stated that his team is up to the challenge.
“All three of (Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota) have been number one at some point this year,” Rosen said. “But we look forward to that. That’s going to be a great opportunity for us going into the NCAA Tournament to have that kind of competition on the road. That’s the way we’re going to approach it.”