EAST LANSING — Sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones and senior setter MacKenzi Welsh both stood frozen as the ball dropped between them. A last-second reaction by Welsh wasn’t enough to save the ball and prevent the Spartans from tying up the set. The entire band played the Michigan State fight song, drowning out any other sound that wanted to be heard inside the fieldhouse.
The event known in East Lansing as “Jam Jenison” fostered communication issues for No. 23 Michigan (19-8 overall, 12-5 Big Ten), which it ultimately overcame to defeat the rival Spartans (14-13, 5-12) in five sets Wednesday night.
The Wolverines came out after just one day of practice this week into a rival’s home court, with the seats filled and decibels raised.
“Everyone felt kind of shaky,” said freshman outside hitter May Pertofsky. “Obviously their crowd is huge and their band is excruciatingly loud. … I think it just kind of threw us for a loop for a second because we’ve only been in the gym once before this game”
And this was visible. Michigan was making errors on both sides of the ball, hesitating on who would take the second hits and even sending sets above teammates’ heads. It stemmed from one main issue — communication.
“It is a little hard to communicate,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “So there’s going to be some communication issues because you can’t hear. … We can’t really be visual with our communication because you’re watching the ball, so you can’t really take your eye off the ball and look at them, so it got a little bit crazy that way.”
And to Rosen, it was obvious where at least some of the issues started. The whole pep band was there and the noise reverberated throughout the arena.
“The band makes a big difference,” Rosen said.
After falling into a 2-1 set deficit following repeated errors, the Wolverines regained control of the match.
“I feel like going down, 2-1, it becomes go-time,” Welsh said. “And if you don’t play your best in that moment you’re going to lose the match.”
Despite the desperation, Michigan was visibly more calm and in control of their play in the fourth and fifth sets.
“We would come into the time out and they’d look at us and (the coaches) wouldn’t be upset or anything like that,” Pertofsky said. “They would just be like, ‘Guys, you need to calm down and you need to unify.’ After that we came out with a lot more fire and just talked more and communicated.”
The Wolverines were able to close out the last two sets, 25-15 and 17-15, respectively, despite the crowd growing louder than before. With the tight, 3-2, victory over Michigan State, Michigan finishes its regular season with a 4-0 record over rivals Michigan State and Ohio State.
“With our backs against the wall, in a place like this, I was really proud of how our team responded,” Rosen said.