May Pertofsky had the Nebraska defense out of system and its offense rattled as she brought her dominant serve onto national television for the first time this season.
The Michigan volleyball team silenced the soldout Nebraska crowd early on Sunday with its balanced offensive attack and aggressive defense. The freshman’s serve kickstarted the Wolverines to an early 7-0 run to take a lead in the first set. Forcing No. 5 Nebraska to take a timeout, the Michigan thought this could be its chance to prove itself as one of the elite teams in the country. But its inexperience showed. After losing a rollercoaster first set, 25-21, it was all downhill from there.
Playing in their biggest match yet in front of a raucous Nebraska crowd, the Wolverines fell 25-21, 25-22, 25-14, losing their first Big Ten match of the season. The only highlight of the day was the way the team started. The Wolverines ratcheted up their defensive aggression while trying to sustain the offensive balance that was successful earlier in the season. But they were unable to sustain this against such a high level of talent.
“We came out early on and served really tough and played very good defense in the first set that allowed us to get a lead and jump on them early,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Unfortunately we couldn’t sustain that and as physical as we were, we weren’t executing offensively very well so even we when had that lead we weren’t doing offensively the job we normally do or needed to do.”
In what is normally a high-paced and efficient offense, Michigan’s passing faltered, leading to one of its worst hitting percentages of the season. As a team, the Wolverines hit a measly .019. Even in the first set with a lead, the Wolverines were not productive on offense.
“Our passing wasn’t great,” Rosen said. “The offense wasn’t balanced and we weren’t having the tempo we normally have and need.”
Led by junior outside hitter Lexi Sun, Nebraska is one of the best blocking teams in the country. Michigan attacked Sun’s poor ball control early on and did a good job playing against her throughout the game. Despite that, playing against such a high level of talent is difficult and Sun still managed to get a double-double.
For the Wolverines, eight players had negative or zero hitting percentages. Individually, senior Cori Crocker was the highlight for the day, hitting .455. But even that was well short of Crocker’s usual production. Michigan’s poor offensive efficiency caused the game to get out of reach early on.
Entering the crux of its schedule, Michigan continues to improve on its execution and consistency. It is better than it was at the beginning of the season but are emphasizing consistency in practice to continue their growth.
“(We have to) execute against top teams. You need to be able to play consistently to stay in the game,” Rosen said. “We did it in spurts but to be able to string it together and do it throughout the match is very important. We have to be consistent with our execution especially on the offensive side.”
The Wolverines are a very young and inexperienced team. Pertofsky, who came in on her own this summer to train in the gym, is leading the way as a freshman. Growing pains are expected for such a young team.
“We are still that team that is gaining experience every day,” Rosen said. “I think we are on the right path, but that path isn’t always in a linear direction. There are ups and downs and setbacks. We will come back and work hard on the things we struggled on today.”