The #13 seed Michigan defeated #4 seed Stanford tonight in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Volleyball tournament. Michigan won in 4 sets by scores 25-18, 23-25, 25-22, and 25-11. Michigan came out with their highest focus level all season and it showed.
In set one, Michigan's big players, Alex Hunt, Juliana Paz, Veronica Rood, and Lexi Zimmerman all came out on fire. Michigan registered only one hitting error with a hitting percentage of almost .535. Hitting percentages are like batting averages in baseball. A .333 percentage is very good. .535 is unreal. We did it.
We had balance on offense. Hunt was surgical on the outside. She cut blocks right and left. Paz was powerful, blowing through blocks for kills. Veronica Rood got the attention from Lexi that she should, providing a distraction for the Stanford blockers, opening up the outside. Lexi was perfect on the set, but she was also a force on the block. The first set was only close because Michigan was pushing hard on the serve, leading to 4 extra Stanford points.
In the second set, Michigan jumped out to an early lead of 5-2, but Stanford came back to tie the game at 8. Stanford got their block going, especially on Hunt, but Michigan managed to slowly cut the lead down and even tie the game at 23. Down 23-24, Michigan let a serve by that looked to be out. It was ruled to have landed on the line and Michigan lost the set. The call was close, and that play ended up being the difference.
Set three saw Michigan return to dominating. Michigan had two different 7 point leads in the set, mainly thanks to a couple of runs by Rood and Hunt. Stanford managed to bring the game back to a one point Michigan lead at 20-19, but when Rood rotated back into the front, it was set over. Michigan pulled away and won.
Set four was all Michigan. Stanford's wheels began to fall off as they had back to back serve receive errors against both Paz and Donhoff. They never really got "in system", meaning they never were able to get into a normal bump-set-spike rhythm. Michigan steam rolled over the Cardinal to open the set 16-3. From that point, Michigan traded off points to the final 25-11 score.
- Lexi Zimmerman was great all night. Her sets were crisp and clean. Her blocks were timely and huge (I think she had more than the 2 assist listed in the gametracker). She did a great job of mixing the sets. She incorporated everyone in the game plan and didn't force too many 2's (quick hits by the setter instead of actually setting the ball to another player). Lexi has forced a lot of 2's lately, and today she definitely let Rood/Bower be the change of pace attacks.
- Alex Hunt's hitting from the left side won the match for Michigan. In the first and third sets, she was splitting blocks, pinpointing her hits to go off the block, and just smashing the ball. Her 18 kills lead the team
- Juliana Paz had a great night with 15 kills, 3 service aces, and a solo block. Despite these numbers, Paz really wasn't a huge part of the game. Her .250 hitting percentage was lowest of the major contributors, and might have overshadowed just how good she played. The two service errors also looked pretty bad, but those happen.
- Veronica Rood needs to be cloned. With middle blockers, you almost always have two of them in your rotation at any time. This way, you have one in the front at all times (the other is usually subbed out by the libero). When Rood is in the game, Michigan can't be stopped offensively. Rood's blocking on the season isn't quite as impressive as most other middle blockers in the BigTen, but her offense is top of the line. Her quick hits (zero sets) and her slide/cutting hits when she moves to her right then hits are money every time.
- Megan Bower, like Paz, had a quiet set of kills as well. Bower totaled 9 on 17 attempts for a .471, but her bigger contribution was a change of pace in set 3. After Stanford really started to key in on Hunt and Paz, and with Rood subbed out on the back row, Bower had a strong kill from the opposite side that helped get Rood back into the front row quicker. That was a big swing in the game.
- Karlee Bruck really struggled in this game. She had 3 kills and 3 hitting errors in 15 attempts for a .000 percentage. She seemed a bit slow to the block (but registered 2 block assists) and was also off on her attacks. She did do really well on a couple of one-on-one plays at the net where the ball came down up for grabs.
- Sloane Donhoff and Maggie Busch both played excellent defense today and contributed quite a bit at the line. Donhoff had 4 service aces (2 errors) and Busch had an ace (1 error) from the serving line.
With the win, Michigan advances to the Elite Eight and will play the Hawaii Wahine tomorrow night (11:30pm ET) in Palo Alto. Earlier today, the Wahine defeated an Illinois team that finished ahead of Michigan in the BigTen. Illinois looked flat, but Hawaii did what they were supposed to do and didn't make errors.
Hawaii appears to be a team very much like Michigan in that they are aggressive, focus on their serving game, and rely on a pair of hitters. This should be a really good, really tight game. Hawaii is a power program in the WAC, comparable to Boise State in football, but with a much longer track record of success in the NCAA tournament.
I'll update this with media information as I get it. I think the game will be streamed again, but I'm not sure.
Go Blue, Beat the Wahine.
I love that there was already a "Stanford Sucks" tag.