Mark Rosen had never seen anything like it in his 18 years as Michigan’s coach.
According to the Michigan volleyball team’s coach, Friday night’s packed and energetic crowd at Cliff Keen Arena reached a decibel level that set the tone for the Wolverines (11-1) throughout the three matches of the Michigan Challenge.
No. 23 Michigan swept the tournament, claiming victories in all three matchups and dropping only one set — the first set against Colgate (4-7) on Saturday night.
On Friday night against Auburn (6-7), the Wolverines downed the Tigers handily and held an advantage in almost every facet of the game, especially on the offensive side. Spearheaded by senior middle blocker Abby Cole, who had 13 kills, Michigan won the kills battle, 48-33, in a 3-0 sweep.
Michigan’s front row for most of the match, composed of Cole and middle blockers Cori Crocker and Claire Kieffer-Wright, were in complete harmony and accounted for more than half the team’s kills.
Saturday’s early matchup against Eastern Michigan (5-8) was much of the same as the previous contest. The Wolverines took control from the get-go to take their second 3-0 victory.
Rosen dug deep into the depth chart against the Eagles to give his typical starters a breather before the third game later on Saturday. But evidenced by the score, Michigan didn’t skip a beat.
“It was to get some people some experience, to see some people in different situations,” Rosen said. “If there’s only six or seven players who can play at a high level, you’re not going at a level that’s going to make you better.”
Freshman outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom and fifth-year senior outside hitters Kelly Murphy and Ally Davis combined for 19 kills against Eastern Michigan.
Saturday’s nightcap against Colgate began much differently than the previous two matchups for Michigan. The Raiders took control of the first set, winning 25-22, to jump out to an early lead.
But the set quickly became an outlier of an impressive weekend for the Wolverines, as they managed to control the tempo for the rest of the match.
Michigan roared back, trouncing Colgate in the third set, 25-9. Cole, once again, was the star of the match, tallying an impressive 19 kills.
“I thought the difference was in the third and fourth set,” Rosen said. “Our defensive level took a big jump, our blockers finally made the adjustments, we started to cap on their hitters and then it changed the game. They hit -.187 in the third set, and that’s exactly what we were hoping to do.”
The sweep at the Michigan Challenge capped off an impressive 11-1 start for the Wolverines in non-conference play. In all three games, freshmen MacKenzi Welsh and Tiffany Clark made promising contributions on an already young team, but for Rosen, it was the seniors who impressed him the most.
“(The freshmen) are good, but I think I’m most proud of the three seniors,” Rosen said. “Those older kids have put a lot of time and work in, and I think they’re doing a great job of the volleyball side of it, but also the leadership and the intangibles.”
While the Wolverines have reason to celebrate after their dominant non-conference play, they also know that games in the Big Ten — which boasts eight teams in the top 25 — will pose a much greater challenge.
“We feel really good,” Cole said. “It’s definitely a confidence booster, but at the same time we understand it’s not going to be much like this (against the Big Ten). We have a lot to work on this week in practice.”