The job every week for the No. 17 Michigan volleyball team is to handle business and get the win. So against Rutgers, the Wolverines could be considered overqualified.
The Scarlet Knights have won only one out of 80 Big Ten games since joining the conference, and on Friday, the Scarlet Knights continued the trend of losing by bowing out to Michigan in straight sets, 3-0.
The Wolverines played the match much like how a typical work day would go. Up early, staying strong until the break but ready for the day to end at close. Michigan put in work on the offensive and defensive end in the first two sets, providing little reason for scare until the third set, when it lost focus and dug itself in an early deficit. However, the Wolverines responded in quick succession to quash any doubt that they would win.
“Being down or being close to a team and being able to keep playing our own game,” said junior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom. “And I think that we’ve implemented it in this match, and we’ve been working on it.”
Playing its game and style had given Michigan success all season, so the team had little reason to change. With their balanced offense, the Wolverines were led by senior outside hitter Carly Skjodt and Wetterstrom in the first set. With three runs of four or more, Michigan built an early lead that it wouldn’t relinquish, winning the first set 25-11.
Rutgers had little response in the second set as well. Though it put up a much better fight, the efforts of the Wolverine veterans proved to be too much to overcome. Junior setter Mackenzi Welsh, in particular, played her part in controlling the pace of play.
“(Welsh) ran a great offense,” Wetterstrom said. “I think tonight, she was seeing the block. She was heading away from the block, we had a lot of one-on-one, or one-on-nones hitters, and she was utilizing going against the mismatch, and she just did a really good job placing the ball.”
For part of the third set, the Scarlet Knights worked out an answer.
This time, it was an approach Michigan had seen before. Opposing services have proven to be a challenge for the Wolverines all season if they deviate any bit from the standard serve. Michigan saw it with Nebraska and with Iowa. And as both teams started play after intermission, Rutgers pulled out the same tactic.
Quickening the pace at which she served, Scarlet Knight Marle Weidt disrupted the pace of play for Michigan by preventing the Wolverines from setting up their receive defense. Unsettled, the team allowed Rutgers a 7-3 lead.
“That server was going back and serving as soon as the ref blew the whistle, and that’s not something we see very often,” Welsh said. “In the Big Ten especially, and she was putting really good pace on the ball, and so we put our three best passers back there to be able to fight her off and be able to get out of the rotation as fast as possible.”
With a lineup of sophomores defensive specialists Jacqueline DiSanto and Natalie Smith and senior libero Jenna Lerg in the back row, Mark Rosen opted for a defensive lineup specializing in receiving. The Wolverine coach saw the struggle and realized the need to respond.
With better first touches, Welsh saw the burden of having to coordinate passes off of bad touches lifted. Michigan, through the efforts of Welsh, Wetterstrom and Skjodt, fought back to win the set 24-26 and claim the match 3-0. Welsh ended the night with 41 assists while Skjodt and Wetterstrom tallied 15 and 11 kills, respectively.
“I think the passing and defense tonight was amazing from all the people that played back row for our team,” Welsh said. “I think I was put in really good positions to out our hitters in really good positions because of that. And I think all of our hitters did amazing and got hits when we needed them and fought hard through every single push.”
Though Michigan lapsed at moments during the game, the match ended up as just another day’s work for the team.