Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cliff Keen Confidential

The Michigan women's volleyball team is the best kept secret on campus.

By now, everyone knows that Yost is a legendary place to watch hockey, that the lacrosse team is a juggernaut, that the only team with maybe more offensive firepower than Denard Robinson is the softball team, or that the soccer teams play in one of the nicest new venues in the country. But what people around campus don't seem to realize is that the most exciting young team on campus doesn't play at the Big House - they play in tiny Cliff Keen Arena.

The football team is obviously, far and away, the premier team on campus. Every game is like a holiday, each win a momentous occasion, each loss casting gloom and doom over Ann Arbor. But when you remove the immense meaning of each game, pound for pound, the Michigan women's volleyball team is the most electric team on campus, as anyone who witnessed their stunning comeback victory over Minnesota on Saturday will attest to.

Down 2-0 headed to the locker room, Michigan was out of sorts. They were pummeled 12-25 in the first set, and lost a hard fought second set 23-25. Minnesota, the #14 ranked team in college volleyball, was big and physical, dominating play at the net behind sophomore Tabi Love. There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the crowd, who had the previous night witnessed Michigan run over an overmatched Iowa squad. This was Michigan's first chance of the season to beat a ranked team, and a Big Ten foe at that. 2-0 felt like an insurmountable hole to climb out of.

And then, a ray of hope. Behind 7 kills from Alex Hunt and 4 from Claire McElheny, Michigan took the third set 25-22. A buzz was restored to Cliff Keen as Michigan was finally able to solve the 6'-6" Love. In a back-and-forth fourth set, Hunt got help from freshman Jennifer Cross and McElheny, and Michigan won 25-23. Michigan believed, and so did the Cliff Keen crowd. After falling down 9-6 in the decisive fifth set, Michigan battled back, and Alex Hunt's career-high 28th kill sealed the upset for the Wolverines.

I, for one, was calling the game for MGoBlue.com and I went nuts. Like, screaming hysterically. The show the Wolverines put on was incredible. Easily in the top two comebacks I've witnessed as a Michigan student (Tate v. ND in 2009 #1, Denard's ND comeback was never in doubt). I know it's just one win, but what a massive, massive win for this Michigan team.

And it's only going to get better. This team is built for something special. Lead by senior All-American setter Lexi Zimmerman, perhaps already the greatest Wolverine volleyball player ever, and junior outside hitter Alex Hunt and libero Sloane Donhoff, Michigan is experienced and talented where it counts. Michigan also sports a fantastic group of talented freshmen in Molly Toon, Jennifer Cross, Lexi Erwin, Brittany Lee, and Ally Saybol, all of whom have gotten extensive playing time so far this season. Toon, Cross and Erwin especially have shown the ability to take over a game and provide solid secondary options to Hunt. Add in solid depth from McElheny, Courtney Fletcher, and Karlee Bruck and Michigan has the veteran leadership to make a run at not only a Big Ten championship, but a national championship.

That road continues this weekend as the Wolverines go on the road to Ohio State and Penn State. Michigan has a legitimate shot to take down the fabled Nittany Lions and emerge from this weekend with a sweep and a message to the world of college volleyball that they are title contenders. Sweep, and Michigan should return to Cliff Keen the following weekend to a standing ovation, and I'd expect the team to draw a packed house. Get on the bandwagon now, Michigan fans, because this volleyball season has the potential to be historic.


Anonymous said...

My family and I flew in for the football game over the weekend and were fortunate enough to see both volleyball matches in the evening- very exciting team to watch! I am on the bandwagon....Go Blue

Kyle Wolfe said...

Great to see Volleyball getting the attention it really deserves. We have the best two quarterbacks in the Big 10...Shoelace and Lexi! They can make a run in the NCAA, but will need a more balanced attack on the outside to get blockers off of Hunt. Keep up the good work with the radio broadcasts! GO BLUE!!

Andrew Seid said...

There's no doubt. Lexi IS the greatest volleyball player in Michigan history. In her time with the team, she has made more All-American teams in 3 years than any other Wolverine, will hold numerous records and when it's all said and done, led the most successful 4 years in Michigan volleyball history from the most important position on the court.

Matt Nyquist said...

You're definitely right about Volleyball being one of the best kept secrets in the University. I've been in the Volleyball band for a few years now and I'm always trying to get more people to come to games.

hring said...

The best thing about this victory was that Minnesota didn't choke. They played good volleyball all the way through. Instead, Michigan picked up their game to match Minnesota's, and then went a little bit higher.

At the start Minnesota dominated. Things that worked for the Wolverines earlier in the year, weren't working now. Minnesota was bigger, more alert, and better ball handlers than the previous teams Michigan played. The block wasn't effective, like it had been earlier in the season. The Minnesota defense was smothering, and there were no easy kills.

It took about a set and a half, but Michigan put it together. They fined tuned their game, found what worked, and got it done. They executed well, and mixed it up. Throw in a tool here, a tip there, whatever it took. And oh those digs!!! Minnesota launched a lot of rockets that never reached the floor.

No doubt about it, this is an incredibly exciting team to watch. They used the preseason for exactly what the preseason is intended, to learn how to work as a team. The Big Ten season is long and challenging. It's unlikely anyone will go undefeated this year. It certainly would be nice though if they can keep it rolling in Columbus and Happy Valley this weekend!

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