Call it inexperience or early-season jitters, but the No. 14 Michigan volleyball team’s first road trip of the year did not live up to the team’s ranking.
Its first match of the Dayton Invitational put the squad’s youth on full display.
Right out of the gates, Missouri’s aggressive offense and serving approach exposed the Wolverines’ biggest weaknesses: first contact and ball control. Consequently, the Tigers (4-0) breezed through the first two sets, winning them, 25-12 and 25-13. In the third set, Michigan (4-2) punched back, and at one point led, 18-14, before losing the final set, 25-23.
“One of the more frustrating, difficult matches I have ever been a part of,” said coach Mark Rosen. “Nothing was working.”
Several hours later, against Northern Illinois (2-5), the Wolverines could have easily succumbed to their frustration.
Against a Huskies team that came out playing with nothing to lose, Michigan’s first touches were more crisp and its passes were more accurate, but it still showed signs of cracks.
As the game wore on, though, the Wolverines grew more comfortable and elevated their defensive and offensive execution. In turn, they obliterated the Huskies and swept the match, 25-19, 25-18, 25-9. Compared to their match against Missouri, the Wolverines made ten fewer errors, hit .322 points higher and registered 17 more kills.
“You could just see us shaking off the frustration from that first match,” Rosen said. “We allowed ourselves to just play volleyball the way we needed to play it.”
The following night, Michigan looked to parlay the previous night’s success into a win against tournament host Dayton (3-4). In front of the largest crowd in Flyer history, the young Wolverines were not fazed.
Michigan dropped the first set, 28-26, but rallied back to take the second. After trading sets through the first four, the Wolverines took the floor for the 5th in a race to 15. In such an expedited set, both teams knew the importance of a big lead and it was Dayton who grabbed it.
Redshirt sophomore Jamie Peterson propelled the run behind one of the nation’s deadliest serves. She stumped the Wolverines and secured a commanding 11-4 lead for the Flyers in the process.
Down but not out, Michigan battled to the end, drawing within two late in the game. But, the effort was not enough as Dayton took the set, 15-12, and thus the match to drop the Wolverines’ weekend record to 1-2.
“We don’t look for moral victories,” Rosen said after the match while trying to remain positive. “But at the same time we have to look at the process and make sure we are focused on doing what we need to do to get better as the year goes on.”