Tied 9-9 in the beginning of the decisive fifth set against No. 2 Minnesota, junior middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright went up for an attack that the Golden Gophers knocked right back. After the block, Kieffer-Wright went up again for a kill to give the Michigan volleyball team a 10-9 lead.

Unfortunately for the 18th-ranked Wolverines, the momentum didn’t last long enough.

Michigan traveled to Madison and Minneapolis to face off against No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 2 Minnesota. Friday night, Michigan fought the Badgers in a four-set match, falling 3-1. Sunday afternoon, the team battled again in a heartbreaker matchup, playing the Golden Gophers to five sets before coming up short for a 3-2 loss.

Friday night’s match against Wisconsin began in Michigan’s favor as the team took back the first set after the Badgers’ early streak. In the second and third sets, though, the Wolverines were unable to tie it up and overcome Wisconsin’s initial lead, losing both sets consecutively, 25-18 and 25-17. In the fourth set, Michigan seemed to regain momentum, but it was unable to recover from the Badgers’ eight-point streak early in the set.

“I think the good thing in this conference (is that) when you play a team a second time, at least you know them better,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen.

The last time the Wolverines took on Wisconsin — when the Badgers were ranked No. 1 in early October — they showed a similar fight, pushing the match to a fifth set, where they lost by a slim margin.

Though it managed just a .160 attack average to Wisconsin’s .344 this time around, Michigan statistically held its own. Both Kieffer-Wright and senior middle blocker Abby Cole totaled a team-high 12 kills, followed closely by fifth-year senior outside hitter Kelly Murphy, who had 10.

Rosen highlighted Kieffer-Wright, Cole and redshirt freshman Cori Crocker, along with sophomore libero Jenna Lerg, who had 19 digs in both games this weekend.

“Abby played well both nights,” Rosen said. “But (she) had to definitely fight her way into it a little bit … thought today after the second set she really got going.”

Sunday’s contest against Minnesota proved to be a similar battle, with the momentum shifting in Michigan’s favor early in the match. 

“Those (first three sets) were probably three of the most steady sets we’ve played all year,” Rosen said. “We really forced them to play well.”

Steady seemed to be the trend of the weekend. The Wolverines played their best in their fifth set against the Golden Gophers, and Rosen highlighted the fact that the first three sets of Sunday’s match were almost statistically identical. 

“It just happened that we lost two of them and won one of them,” Rosen said. “We had between 17-20 kills for each set (and) we hit above .200.”

In fact, Michigan led the game in kills, with 84 to Minnesota’s 72, and was just competitive in attack average, posting a .269 to the Gophers’ .283.

Though it was a disappointing weekend on paper, the Wolverines made Wisconsin compete for points. They also pushed Minnesota to five sets, which was a feat in itself for the Wolverines. Because of this, Rosen says he and his team are in no way discouraged.

“Even though we lost tonight … and in four against Wisconsin, I think we’re playing our best volleyball right now,” said Rosen. “That’s the goal.”

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