Mid-game adjustments fuel Wolverines' win over Eastern Michigan

Sunday, September 15, 2019 - 6:06pm

The Michigan volleyball team made key adjustments to defeat Eastern Michigan in three sets Sunday.

The Michigan volleyball team made key adjustments to defeat Eastern Michigan in three sets Sunday. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

Deep into the third set, freshman defensive specialist Amber Beals lofted the ball in the air and smacked it to the opposing side of the court. The ball ricocheted off the defender’s arm, notching the fourth service ace of the day for the Wolverines.

But it wasn’t just more aggressive serving that allowed the No. 24 Michigan volleyball team (6-2) to overtake Eastern Michigan (3-5) in three straight sets on Sunday — adjustments in all aspects of the game, particularly weak serves, revealed a constantly adapting Wolverine team. It showed a group who knows its strengths and weaknesses and knows how to adjust.

The first set of the day was a tit-for-tat slugfest that put Michigan on its heels. With several lead changes and errors, the Wolverines found their way out of the first frame with a three-point win. A few serves found the net instead of the floor and certain passes ran errant while Michigan attempted to establish itself.

In part, the Eagles’ unique system — characterized by running high balls to the outside, tricking blockers into earlier, slower attempts at the ball —  attributed to the Wolverines’ early struggles.

But after that first set, having seen the opposing system, the more talented Michigan team took the lead and never looked back.

Serving became an asset rather than a liability. The blocking became crisp and dominant. Other players saw the floor and made immediate contributions.

While not all serves landed as aces, many were superbly placed, often forcing the setter to run all over the floor and play out of system.

“Aces are good, but we look at aces as a nice thing, but more, it’s what’s happening on all the balls,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Is the setter standing at the net where she wants to stand, running her offense where she wants to run it from? Or is she on the run and moving off the net? If our serving is tough enough where we’ve got their setter on the run, then hey, that’s not as good as an ace, but it’s awfully close.”

Making proper adjustments is a running theme for the Wolverines this year, with Sunday’s win cementing that idea. 

Earlier in the match, senior outside hitter Sydney Wetterstrom struggled. The offensive workhorse’s typical ferocity was missing, often whiffing on routine spike plays. So Rosen pulled his starter out of the rotation to let Wetterstrom see the game from a different perspective. After the needed mental break, she went back in and dominated — finishing the day with 11 kills. 

A testament to the team’s depth and mindset, the case of Wetterstrom is a frequent occurrence for Michigan this year.  

“Sometimes you just need a break,” Rosen said. “And we have the depth to be able to do that, so I thought across the board today, people who went in, they were ready to go in, and the level stayed high.”

Now, the team is looking to reconcile this idea with its record. After dropping two games to unranked opponents Missouri and Dayton at the Dayton Invitational, the Wolverines will look to shake early errors and focus on their advantages. 

While anyone can look at a straight-set win and see a dominant performance, Michigan’s strength comes in acknowledging the early challenges — then adjusting to roll over the competition.