The Cliff Keen Arena press box is situated above the stands, so it isn’t always easy to see little details.
Sure, it’s clear when junior middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright powers down a kill over the net, or when senior Kelly Murphy snubs a tip back down to her opponent. But sometimes there are little things that aren’t so easy to spot, like a few tears from senior middle blocker Abby Cole, hugging her mom after her final regular-season game as a Wolverine.
Those are the moments that make Senior Night what it is.
Wednesday’s match was the Senior Night the whole team had hoped for — the No. 18 Michigan volleyball team (11-8 Big Ten, 22-9 overall) avenged its loss to No. 14 Michigan State (12-7 Big Ten, 23-8 overall) a couple of weeks ago in a three-set victory, 25-16, 25-11 and 32-30, respectively. The game also served as a way to honor Cole and outside hitters Ally Davis and Murphy, and as the final home game of the Wolverines’ regular season.
It also marked Michigan’s best attack average for a Big Ten match this season, with a .350 percentage. Kieffer-Wright was a huge factor in that, leading the team in kills (12) and scoring a .476 attack average. Six of her 12 kills came during the first set, and Murphy and Cole added three each.
However, it wasn’t until the second set that the Wolverines really took off. Michigan State only managed to score 11 points during the entire set, two of which were service errors. The Spartans only managed to hit double digits after the Wolverines had put 22 points on the scoreboard, with three kills each from Kieffer-Wright, Murphy and sophomore outside hitter Carly Skjodt leading the way.
Kieffer-Wright also led the defense with seven blocks, while sophomore libero Jenna Lerg tallied the most digs with 14.
“That’s a great feeling as a coach, when both outside hitters are going off, both back-row players, the libero and the defensive specialist, are going off, both middles,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Just across the board I thought our whole entire team, and that’s fun to be able to say, ‘I can’t really single out one person who had a better match than everybody else, because everybody had a great match.’
“When you’re firing on all cylinders like that, it’s a really beautiful thing as a coach.”
The final set proved to be the most difficult, as both Michigan and Michigan State scored at least 30 points each. For the first time the entire game, the Spartans were able to tie the Wolverines after a four-point run with two kills and a service ace.
The Spartans took the lead for the first time as well, with a kill from Holly Toliver to put the Spartans up, 30-29. Cole retaliated with a kill to cancel it out and tie up the match 30-30, and two attack errors from Michigan State finalized the 32-30 win for the Wolverines.
“We played pretty steadily throughout the whole match. I think that they were a little bit more high-error in the first two sets and then they were a little bit cleaner in that third set,” Cole said. “They made some adjustments against us, both defensively and offensively that worked in their favor. It was just important for us to identify those and move on. It was kind of like playing cat and mouse for a little bit there.”
The seniors have played their last regular-season home match in Cliff Keen, and now they need to finish out their regular season on the road — and they’ll have a tough challenge in doing so. The Wolverines will visit No. 1 Nebraska on Saturday.