Trailing by one point in the fifth and final set, the Michigan volleyball team watched as a Notre Dame serve sailed into the corner, seemingly headed out of bounds — giving the Wolverines a chance to extend the set at least two more serves.
That hope quickly faded as the shot barely landed inbounds, earning the Fighting Irish (7-2) a 15-13 win in the set and a 3-2 win in the match — sending Michigan (6-3) home empty-handed despite holding a 2-1 set lead early on.
In the deciding set, the Wolverines battled back from an 11-8 deficit to tie the score at 13 apiece. Ultimately, however, Notre Dame toughed out a kill and then the aforementioned service ace to seal Michigan’s fate.
“To me, I don’t look at it like the final plays are any more important than the first ones,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “The first plays are just as important as the last ones. I don’t think it’s any different than what happened in the middle of the set or what happened in any set.”
Before falling in the final set, Michigan appeared to have the momentum after taking two straight set wins. After dropping the first set, 25-23, the Wolverines saw senior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom net four consecutive kills in the second frame to outlast the Fighting Irish and secure a 29-27 win to deadlock the match at one game apiece.
In the following set, Wetterstrom scored an ace to put Michigan up 6-1 early, and the Wolverines capitalized on two Notre Dame errors to go up one game.
“(Wetterstrom) was great today,” Rosen said. “She’s someone who’s really experienced and brings a lot of personality and fire to the team.”
In the fourth set, Michigan found itself ahead 22-20, but lost the set after the Fighting Irish scored five of the set’s final six points. Even though his team wasn’t able to pull out a win late, Rosen saw improvement from his squad.
“We worked really hard the last ten days to get better at (some of our weaker areas),” he said. “Tonight we were significantly better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough, but at the same time that’s part of the growing process.”
The Wolverines won’t have to wait long to see the Fighting Irish again, as the two teams will meet at Crisler Center on Sunday afternoon for the second game of a home-and-home series. Rather than focusing on the task at hand, though, Rosen is instead looking for his players to focus more on their own growth over the past ten days.
“Our growth in the last 10 days has been really significant,” Rosen said. “And that’s what we focused on: are we getting better, are we improving, are there areas we can improve on?”