The Michigan volleyball team had a fatigued Rutgers squad on the ropes late in the second set, desperately scrambling to patch together a sustained attack. Sensing a break in the Wolverine defense, the Scarlet Knights rallied, but freshman middle blocker May Pertofsky rushed to the ball, greeting it with an emphatic solo block. On the very next play, in the exact same spot, the Rutgers attack was stuffed again, this time by redshirt freshman outside hitter Grace Persson.
The rest of the night played out in much the same way for the Wolverines (13-5 overall, 6-2 Big Ten), who swept the Scarlet Knights (6-13, 0-8) to the tune of 25-10, 25-15, 25-16. Following consecutive Big Ten losses to No. 5 Nebraska and No. 8 Penn State, Michigan wasted no time righting the ship against another conference foe.
“We knew Rutgers wasn’t as strong of an opponent, but for us, we always judge on our side of the net,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “It’s about how are we playing comparative to our level rather than the opponent, and that’s probably one of the most dialed-in team wins, playing for each other.”
The Wolverines set the tone early with a swarming, physical defense that left few gaps on the court, frustrating the Scarlet Knight attack, which was unable to correct course even after burning two timeouts in the first set. Rutgers had no answers for the freshman tandem of Pertofsky and middle blocker Jess Robinson, who combined for 25.5 points and 10 blocks.
Michigan’s competence in both phases of the game continued during the match, as the Scarlet Knights scored on 45.2 percent of their possessions when receiving the serve, while the Wolverines scored on a gaudy 81.4 percent of theirs. Not a single Scarlet Knight reached double-digit points, while Pertofsky, Robinson and sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones all tallied 10 or more.
“I thought tonight we were just really clean,” Rosen said. “When you hit almost .500 and side out at 80 percent, you know, those are numbers that are crazy. (A hitting percentage of) .250 is a good number, and we were double that tonight. We were really efficient.”
The Wolverines’ efficiency was the product of a fluid, communicative attack befitting an older, more experienced group. Each player seemed to be innately aware of the other’s presence on the court, filling in the defensive gaps as necessary.
“I think our team has gotten along really, really well, especially in the quickness in which we were put together,” Robinson said. “To pull off wins in a conference this hard, you have to be working together all the time.”
While Michigan’s pair of freshman flashed their two-way potential, the team should remain competitive within the conference by leveraging the talents of veterans like senior setter Mackenzi Welsh, who added two blocks and one of the team’s seven service aces.
“It’s not just our freshmen that are carrying the load right now,” Rosen said. “I think this team has a ton of potential to just keep getting better, and I’m pleased with the direction we’re heading in, but we’ve gotta win some of these big matchups.”