Two sets into its second-round NCAA Tournament matchup, the Michigan volleyball team found itself up 2-0, one set away from knocking off No. 14 UCLA in Los Angeles. But the Wolverines couldn’t finish the job, losing three straight sets to drop their match 3-2 on Saturday, ending their season.
It was the mirror opposite of Michigan’s 3-1 victory against Santa Clara the previous night, when it rallied after losing the first set to win three straight and advance to the second round.
The loss ended a season in which the Wolverines (20-13 overall) were able to make history, beating two-time reigning national champions Penn State on the road for the first time in program history, while dealing with a flurry of lineup changes.
“One of the important things about this team is that we changed our lineup around almost every match,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “It gave us the opportunity to keep getting better, to keep tweaking things, and the team really responded to that.”
Against the Bruins (25-7), however, the Wolverines were unable to get the job done.
Michigan was jittery to open the first set, losing the first four points before righting the ship. The Wolverines fought back to tie the score at nine before falling into another hole down 21-19.
Michigan showed resilience, though, winning three straight points to take a set lead it did not relinquish, and sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Knop finished the set with a crucial kill.
The Wolverines left the court pumped up after their 25-23 first-set victory, bracing for a second set that was just as tight as the first.
The two teams went back and forth throughout the frame, with neither stringing together more than three consecutive points.
Tied at 24, though, Knop came through in the clutch again with another kill to give the Wolverines a one-point lead before a UCLA attack error gave Michigan the set, 26-24.
The Wolverines ran into the locker room poised to take the match. But when they returned, things began to fall apart.
The Bruins quickly staked out to a 7-1 lead in the third set, and Michigan was unable to close the gap, losing 25-22.
The fourth set was similar. Michigan fell behind 18-13 after a series of errors, perhaps reflecting the Wolverines’ fatigue, and lost the set, 25-20.
In the winner-take-all fifth set, Michigan was outmatched by a Bruins team that had momentum from the third and fourth sets. UCLA committed just two errors and tallied 12 kills en route to taking the set 15-11, earning a berth to the third round.
It was a bitter ending to a season that had many ups and downs.
After the loss, junior middle blocker Abby Cole reflected upon her team’s season, which, in addition to the road win over then-No. 4 Penn State, included victories over then-No. 14 Ohio State and then-No. 18 Illinois.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Cole said. “We’ve done some pretty special things this season, making history like beating two top-15 teams back-to-back. It’s moments like that we’ll really hold onto, and I’m really proud of this team.”
Added Rosen: “Wins and losses are huge, but how much this team has grown individually and collectively is what I’m really going to remember about this group. The hardest part is this team doesn’t get to practice tomorrow and doesn’t get to play another match.”