Suffocate the opposition with stout blocks at the net. Execute sharp, communicative passing plays. Extend digs into rallies, and rallies into kills. Keep errors to a minimum. Don’t beat yourself. And finally, possess the athletes capable of pulling it all off.
Check a few of these boxes and you might be a solid volleyball team. Check all of them and you might just be great. On Sunday, the Michigan volleyball team, a solid one, met a great one in the Wisconsin Badgers.
At times, the Wolverines (13-7 overall, 6-4 Big Ten) proved they could hang with No. 6 Wisconsin (14-4, 10-0), but the Badgers’ high-end depth overpowered Michigan in a 26-24, 16-25, 15-25, 16-25 loss.
The Wolverines entered the match with full knowledge of the lethality of Badger junior middle blocker Dana Rettke, a towering 6-foot-8 member of the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, who led all players in points with 24.5 along with 10 blocks.
“She’s gonna score. She’s gonna get hers,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We gotta make sure that we slow some other people down as well and know she’s not gonna win the game by herself.”
In the opening set, it appeared as if the Wolverines’ strategy might pay off. As anticipated, Rettke punished Michigan at the net and standout senior libero Tiffany Clark, a former Wolverine, covered the floor with lightning quickness, but Michigan refused to fold.
Instead, the combined prowess of sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones and freshman middle blocker May Pertofsky matched Rettke and company block-for-block, kill-for-kill, stunning their conference foe with a tightly contested set win. Jones finished the match with 21.5 points, second only to Rettke.
“She’s carrying a big load for us right now,” Rosen said. “We were dictating the style of play and controlling what they were doing.”
The Wolverines’ ability to match Wisconsin’s effort and intensity was unable to sustain itself for longer than a set. While Jones’ heroics continued throughout the afternoon, her teammates found it difficult to contain the other Badger attackers. Junior outside hitter Grace Loberg tallied 13 kills and six blocks, and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Danielle Hart added seven kills and six blocks.
Michigan’s stars performed just as well as Wisconsin’s, but the Badgers continually overmatched their complementary players. This would ultimately prove the difference, as Wisconsin took three consecutive sets to dispatch the Wolverines. A good team has star talent at several positions. A great team has enough stars to fill a bench.
“I do believe this team has very high top-end talent,” Rosen said. “We’re not playing against easy teams and that’s making us better whether it feels it right now or not.”
Should Michigan develop consistent contributors beyond its young core, it’ll be another box checked and another step towards the upper tier of the Big Ten.