An assertive kill from sophomore outside hitter Caroline Knop had Crisler Center on its feet as the Michigan volleyball team won the second set against No. 6 Nebraska to knot the score at one set apiece.
But the Wolverines were unable to carry that momentum forward, falling 3-1 to the Cornhuskers on Saturday.
The loss snapped a two-game winning streak, leaving the Wolverines (8-10 Big Ten, 18-11 overall) with just two games left to prove that they are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid.
“We will get there,” Knop said. “I know there’s only two games left in the season, but I think that we will get there in time for the NCAA Tournament and make a deep run.”
Knop was one of three Wolverines who had their best games of the season. She tallied a career-high 20 kills on a .421 attack average.
“I thought (Knop) did a great job tonight,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “I loved her passion and how hard she played. She was really trying to encourage and push her teammates, and she’s (been) playing really well.”
Junior middle blocker Abby Cole was second on the team with 17 kills on the night.
Senior setter Carly Warner also had a productive evening with a season-high 53 assists, and redshirt junior outside hitter Kelly Murphy had a season-high 13 kills.
While the Wolverines excelled on the stat sheet, the team as a whole lacked consistency throughout the game.
“We need to do a better job of fighting and not making mistakes,” Knop said. “What’s frustrating is we got leads, we went on a run, and then they’d come right back in the very next rotation and go on a run. That can’t happen if we’re going to be a great team.”
Knop was referencing the third set, when Michigan was up 6-1, but eventually lost, 25-22. It was there that the game seemed to get away from Michigan, leading to an emotionally charged fourth set.
“The third set is one that I’d like to get back,” Rosen said. “We played great, but we weren’t quite steady enough. I thought when we lost that third set it really took a little bit out of us.”
Despite errors from Michigan, there was no discounting Nebraska’s defensive dominance — the factor that hindered the Wolverines’ efforts all game.
The Cornhuskers’ organization at the net and strategy of bunching their blockers close together created one of the best defenses Michigan has seen all season.
With two games left in the regular season, the Wolverines are optimistic that they will make the Tournament. A strong showing against Indiana and Illinois, however, is essential, and Michigan is trying to focus on its game and have some players step up in preparation.
“We’ve got to have a little more from our middles and our left side spot,” Rosen said. “(Knop and Cole) carried as big a load as we could expect from them, but we’ve got to have that across the entire team.”