There was almost as much red as maize and blue in the stands at Cliff Keen Arena on Saturday night, which made for an intense — and loud — match. The No.15 Michigan women's volleyball took on No. 6 Nebraksa in front of a sold-out crowd.
After a loss to Maryland on Wednesday, the Wolverines were poised to take on another Big Ten opponent but hoped for a better outcome, as they lost in four sets, 25-15, 20-25, 26-28, 24-26.
The first set started off as a back-and-forth battle, but Michigan began to pull away with its strong defense while the Cornhuskers were plagued with careless errors. Nebraska missed free balls and overshot sets, and the Wolverines answered with consistent defense and powerful serves.
“I think we saw an opportunity and we took it,” said junior setter Mackenzi Welsh. “We were able to get a small lead and change momentum to make it a big lead.”
Service really stood out in the first set. Welsh had a six-point serving streak with three aces to pull away during the final points of the first set to clinch the victory.
After the loss to Maryland, Michigan coach Mark Rosen wanted to emphasize defense and service.
“I talk a lot to these guys about different ways we can put pressure on your opponent,” Rosen said. “There are three big ways: one is to serve aggressively, defend and another is being able to sideout consistently. Those are things we did really well in the first set.”
The Cornhuskers minimized their errors in the second set, while Michigan struggled with serves. Out of a total of nine service errors, five were made in the second set. The Wolverines also had seven attack errors, which totaled 12 free points for Nebraska.
“The first set we did everything right,” Rosen said. “I thought we served really well, we defended well, we blocked well. We were really efficient. The difference to me in the second set was the fact that we missed five serves.”
Even with the errors, the second set was still evenly matched. The Cornhuskers started off with a two-point lead, and the Wolverines played catch-up for the remainder of the set, always trailing by only one point.
A three-point run by Nebraska brought the score to 21-17 and forced a Michigan timeout. The Wolverines battled to close the gap, but fell short, with the second set ending in a 25-20 loss.
Michigan claimed the first two points of the third set and kept its foot on the gas pedal, leading the Cornhuskers for the majority of the set. In another tight battle, the Wolverines had only one service error, which made for an exciting game.
“In the third set, I thought we outplayed them for the majority of the set,” Rosen said.
As the score climbed to 25, the arena grew louder and louder with every point. The rallies grew longer, and the athletes looked tired as the game went past 25 points. Eventually, the set ended with a kill from Nebraska after a long rally, 28-26.
The Wolverines played very similarly in the fourth set, with clean digs and minimal errors. The evenly-matched teams once again went back and forth until the end. The Cornhuskers were poised to win the match at 24-22, but a kill from freshman outside hitter Paige Jones kept Michigan in the running. Fans held their breath as the Wolverines fought to pull ahead but ultimately fell just short, 24-26.
“I don’t think we did anything wrong, we passed the ball well in that rotation, we just kind of got stuck a little bit,” Rosen said. “I thought the two deuce sets, the third and the fourth sets, those could’ve gone either way.”
This time, thought, the sets fell Nebraska’s way.