After suffering a sweep at the hands of No. 7 Nebraska on Sunday, the Michigan volleyball team swept Rutgers to get back in the win column.
The Wolverines (6-7 Big Ten, 16-9 overall) won their sets by scores of 25-16, 25-19 and 25-14, though the sets were not without drama. Despite being one of the weaker teams in the conference, the Scarlet Knights (0-13 Big Ten, 5-20 overall) still managed to give Michigan fits in a tense second set. After the game, Michigan coach Mark Rosen made sure to note that the close set pointed to just how deep the Big Ten is, as even the conference’s bottom-dwellers are sneakily talented.
“It’s a tough conference….You’re playing great teams every single night,” Rosen said. “Every match is going to be a dogfight.”
It certainly was a dogfight Wednesday night, but Michigan was able to come out on top thanks to a balanced offensive attack that saw five different players notch over seven kills. Senior middle blocker Katherine Mahlke and junior outside hitter Carly Skjodt tied for the team lead with eight kills apiece.
“We knew that we had the capabilities to have four or five people every night be pretty balanced like that,” Mahlke said. “When we play well and we get that, it opens things up.”
Middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright was instrumental in the match’s second set, notching five kills to help right the ship for an offense that was struggling to get anything going. Midway through the set, Michigan found itself in a 16-12 hole, prompting a timeout from Rosen. After the timeout, the Wolverine offense caught fire, closing the set on a 13-6 run to take a 2-0 advantage in the match.
“The biggest thing (was) breaking the momentum,” Rosen said. “I didn’t feel like it was something that was going to be insurmountable.”
Rosen also credited Skjodt for rising to the occasion as one of the team’s three captains.
“(Skjodt’s) been a huge leader for us,” Rosen said, “She’s stepped up offensively for us throughout the whole entire season.”
Despite not notching many kills, sophomore setter MacKenzi Welsh also played a key role in the Wolverines’ victory, totaling a whopping 26 assists in a dazzling performance that allowed Michigan offense to click on all cylinders. Kieffer-Wright sang Welsh’s praises, noting that “she strives to get better every day.”
“Tonight (Welsh) did a really good job of keeping our offense really balanced,” Rosen said.
Despite Rutgers’ lackluster record, Rosen and his players noted that this was a huge win for the team, especially after a disappointing showing against Nebraska. Rosen stated that the Wolverines are “playing great teams every single night,” and noted that the team’s only focus now is “wins.”
As Mahlke pointed out: “It counts just the same as the bigger matches.”