Senior setter in the Big Ten spotlight:
Tomorrow is the last game of the season as Michigan takes on Northwestern in Evanston. Despite the hot start to begin the season, the last couple weeks of Big Ten play haven't been so kind to the ladies. They currently sit in 4th place in the Big Ten at 12-7 (23-8 overall). That's good enough for a #19 ranking in the coaches poll (before Wednesday's loss to State) and a #28 RPI (loss included).
Saturday night, while we were doing our best to avoid the bros, the volleyball team upset #6 Illinois at Cliff Keen Arena. It was a huge game for the spikers with Lexi Zimmerman posting her second career triple double (43 assists, 13 digs and 13 kills) in an epic performance, even for the best volleyball player in the history of the program. Michigan now sits atop the Big Ten standings at 5-1 along with Illinois and Northwestern.
Senior setter Lexi Zimmerman is a two time All-American. She's got ups.
This year the volleyball team expected a bit of a transition after making the elite eight and then losing outside hitters Juliana Paz and Megan Bower to graduation. However the team is off to a scorching 16-2 start to the season, with a loss coming early on to Toledo and more lately at powerhouse Penn State. How have they done it? It's been an exciting mix of veterans and rookies for the Maize and Blue:
Everyone knows, or should know Lexi Zimmerman - the two time (soon to be three) All-American setter for the Wolverines. Lexi is the floor general and has been doing what she does - DOMINATE - all season for the Wolverines.
Junior Alex Hunt needed to step up big this season for the Wolverines and she has. She led the team with 19 kills against Illinois last Saturday and has shown that she can pick up the slack left by Paz and Bower.
Junior libero Sloane Donhoff anchors the back line for Michigan, routinely leading the team in digs.
Junior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher got off to a solid start early and is well on her way to surpass her kill totals from last season.
Several underclassmen have made a big impact on the team this year early on in their careers. After appearing in only seven sets last season, RS Sophomore Claire McElheny is off to a great start to the 2010 season. She has started 15 matches for the Wolverines and recorded 10 kills in M's upset of the Illini. Her contribution has certainly been a big one and helped in the replacement of Paz and Bower.
True freshmen Molly Toon and Jennifer Cross have come on strong and are showing some promise for Michigan's future. Jennifer Cross, a 6-4 middle blocker, has started 16 times this year for the Wolverines and notched 8 kills and 6 blocks against Illinois. Molly Toon, daughter of the NFL's Al Toon, came up big in the Wolverines' win over Illinois, notching a career high-tying 9 kills.
How They Got Here: 16-2 (5-1)
Michigan opened the season at the Toledo Classic, winning their first two games of the year before falling to the host Rockets in the championship game in five sets. Since then the Wolverines have been on a tear.
M won 12 straight matches including an early season win at Oregon State and sweeps of the Michigan/adidas Invitational and the ASU Sheraton Tournament.
To start Big Ten play, Michigan hosted and defeated Iowa and #15 Minnesota before taking their first conference road trip. On the road M beat OSU in 4 sets before travelling to Penn State. While Penn State isn't the beast that they have been in years past (currently standing at 3-3 in B10 play), the Nittany Lions took care of the Wolverines in straight sets.
The Wolverines returned home this past weekend to defeat Wisconsin and Illinois.
Tonight: MSU at 7pm; Saturday #20 Northwestern at 7pm (Live on BTN)
If you want to feel better about little sister, come to Cliff Keen tonight, where the Wolverines should be able to take care of the Spartans. Alex Hunt currently sits are 989 career kills and the good money says that she will notch kill 1000 against MSU tonight.
As previously mentioned, Northwestern is tied with Michigan atop the Big Ten standings. So Saturday's matchup is a big one with a lot on the line. Michigan will head back out on the road so it's important to get this win to set up what could be a great Big Ten season.
|Wed., Oct. 13||vs. Michigan State *||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|Fri., Oct. 15||vs. No. 20 Northwestern *||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|Fri., Oct. 22||at Indiana *||Bloomington, Ind.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|Sat., Oct. 23||at Purdue *||West Lafayette, Ind.||6:00 p.m. ET|
|Fri., Oct. 29||at Illinois *||Champaign, Ill.||7:00 p.m. CT|
|Sat., Oct. 30||at Wisconsin *||Madison, Wis.||7:00 p.m. CT|
|Fri., Nov. 5||vs. Penn State *||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|Sat., Nov. 6||vs. Ohio State *||Ann Arbor, Mich.||6:00 p.m. ET|
|Fri., Nov. 12||at Minnesota *||Minneapolis, Minn.||6:00 p.m. CT|
|Sat., Nov. 13||at Iowa *||Iowa City, Iowa||7:00 p.m. CT|
|Fri., Nov. 19||vs. Purdue *||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|Sat., Nov. 20||vs. Indiana *||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|Wed., Nov. 24||at Michigan State *||East Lansing, Mich.||6:30 p.m. ET|
|Sat., Nov. 27||at Northwestern *||Evanston, Ill.||7:00 p.m. CT|
If Michigan can go to 7-1 in conference play this week, they set themselves up for a legitimate run at a Big Ten Championship. The Big Ten is one of the best volleyball conferences in the nation, though, so they'll need to show up every night. A westernish road trip to Indiana and Purdue should produce two victories, but road games are road games. It'll be the following week at Illinois where we see what this team is made of. In their first true road test they fell hard to the Lions. Can they show up and upset the Illini for the second time on the season?
After four on the road, it doesn't get any easier with Penn State coming to town. But with Penn State's losses to graduation this could be the year (last year M took them to 5 sets) that Cliff Keen witnesses a victory over the Nittany Lions.
NEEDS MOAR PAZ
MGoBlue has an interesting interview with Mark Rosen about the upcoming season:
There had been a little debate in a previous volleyball thread about the coaches' poll ranking. Rosen touches on that and the incoming talent in the freshman class. Sounds like a lot of possibility -- we may drive down to Toledo for their opening tournament.
It's August and that means the return of my favorite fall sport. That's right, volleyball. While I haven't quite gotten to my season preview (should be one for volleyball and the soccers coming if next week goes as planned), stories are already hitting the news wire.
Today, the Big Ten released the Preseason Conference Poll and Preseason All Big Ten teams. Michigan, coming off a 27-10 regular season and #9 final national ranking, has been picked to finish 5th in the Big Ten (pdf) behind perennial favorite Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio State. This is pretty much on par with the final standings last year, where Michigan finished tied with Ohio State in 4th place.
Coach Rosen via MGoBlue:
"Preseason polls do not mean much," 12th-year head coach Mark Rosen said. "The conference is good enough right now that one through 11 is up for grabs. I really think that the Big Ten is the deepest it has ever been this year. We have a lot of work to do to live up to that finish, but I think that our team is up for it."
Along with the standings, Michigan also had two players named to the Preseason All Big Ten Team. Senior setter Lexi Zimmerman makes her 3rd consecutive Preseason All Big Ten Team, this time as a unanimous pick.
Joining Zimmerman on the Preseason All Big Ten Team is junior left side hitter Alex Hunt. Hunt makes her first appearance on the Preseason Team, and looks to be Michigan's biggest returning weapon after the graduation of Juliana Paz and Veronica Rood.
(Photos via MGoBlue)
The Daily ran an entry from Lexi Zimmerman (senior setter) and Courtney Fletcher (junior middle) today on the divide between Michigan students and Michigan athletes. An exerpt of the introduction:
Everyone knows the two sides of the issue: “Athletes are only here because they play a sport,” and “non-athletes sit around and do nothing all day." But both arguments have an element of truth. Some athletes were greatly helped by their athletic ability when applying to Michigan, and, equally, there are some non-athletes who have all day to do homework yet still fail to turn it in on time. While both sides have legitimate arguments for their cause, the real issue is the lack of respectful dialogue between the two schools of thought. Here is our attempt to contribute to that dialogue.
The article itself was kind of meh, explaining who they are and lamenting the difficulties of juggling schedules. It left me wondering more what inspired them to write the article in the first place.
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.
The #11 Michigan team will face #9 Minnesota in Minneapolis Saturday night (8pmET). The game will be streamed live over the BigTenNetwork.com's new video player. This will be Michigan's first appearance on the new video player, and should be a solid matchup. The cost will be $2.99 (Note: $5 cheaper than the hockey game against BU, which is available through BU's SID for $7.95. BTN is a steal).
Also worth noting, this will be another game where the hosting team moves to a bigger arena (Williams Arena) in order to get a big crowd in against Michigan. Minnesota is expecting around 10k in attendance. That's awesome.
The Golden Gophers enter the game at 15-2 (pending the outcome Friday night at Michigan State), but they suffered a huge setback this week. Brook Dieter, a Second Team All-American last year and current leader in kills for the Gophers, spontaneously quit the team earlier in the week. Not much is really known on what happened. The team captain Gibbemeyer mentioned "personal reasons," while coach Herbert claims it was a "earning playing time" issue. Either way, Dieter and senior setter Carico were both benched against Northwestern last weekend. It sounds like Carico, who is second in the BigTen in assists, should be back in the starting rotation by this weekend.
Taking the place of Dieter is junior Hailey Cowles, a defensive player turned outside hitter. This move makes no sense to me having not seen the Gophers very much, but while reading through some of the comments on those Dieter articles, it doesn't sound like it makes much sense to some of the more informed commenters:
Do you really believe that replacing Brook Dieter (hitting at a pretty good, but not outstanding 0.250 pace) with Hailey Cowles (hitting at an astonishing 0.061 pace) at left side hitter will improve the team? I consider this incident a train wreck [compared to their women's basketball team with a similar experience a few years ago] - dmhopstock
I would guess that Cowles as the OH will not last. Soon, Wilson will move to OH and Harms will play OPP. As good an all-around player as Cowles is, she is not tall/long enough to be successful against premier teams. She will return to her DS position and Harms' athleticism will shine. - fahningm
They sound like they have a decent idea of what's going on, but they are just commenters on a newspaper website, so take it FWIW.
Minnesota definitely looks vulnerable. They were swept by Penn State and Illinois in consecutive games before handling a weak Northwestern team 3 sets to 1 over their last three games.
Michigan will definitely try to test Cowles as Michigan will have a height advantage for perhaps the first time all season. Cowles is 5'10", perhaps the shortest outside hitter we've faced in the BigTen so far. Dieter was one of Minnesota's better blockers with .64 blocks per set (10 solos and 31 assists). That'll be a huge loss for the Gophers.
Add that Michigan is coming off their best defensive game in a while, this loss of Dieter could be huge. Donhoff had a great game against State, which probably went unnoticed by most casual observers. It helped that our block had plenty of tips up. I really want to see that intensity at the net happen in this game as well.
Here's where things start to get dicey for Michigan. In the middle of the last game, Lexi Zimmerman dislocated her thumb. She was playing with obvious pain, and she was sporting a hand brace. While she finished the game against State, we'll have to see how much she plays over the next few games. Most dislocations take a few weeks to fully heal, and really bad ones can knock a player out for 2-3 weeks.
I imagine if had been that bad, the trainers wouldn't have let Lexi play, no matter how much her game day adrenaline would have allowed Lexi to keep going. I'm expecting to see Lexi start, but at the first sign of aggravation, I wouldn't be surprised to see Yager enter the game.
Yager is expected to be a great setter by the time she makes the starting lineup. She was ranked #41 overall in the nation by volleyballprep.com in last year's volleyball recruiting class.
Yager made a brief appearance in the game on Wednesday, but you could tell she was just a freshman setting. Her sets weren't nearly as quick or crisp as Lexi's, and it allowed State to get a few points Michigan probably wouldn't have given up. That said, Lexi made a few bad sets due to the thumb. It'll be interesting to see who plays how much and how well.
I kind of like the one I did for Michigan State. It's not perfect, and I'm still trying to figure out what I call a push versus a true advantage, especially with Aces per Game versus Server Reception Errors per Game (SR Errors/Game) or Attack Percentage versus Blocks per Game. Bear with me. Comments on how to improve it are welcome.
|Aces/Game||1.7||SR Errors/Game||0.9||MICH||SR Errors/Game||0.6||PUSH|
|Serve Errors/Game||2.73||Serve Errors/Game||1.64||MINN||Serve Errors/Game||1.24||MINN|
|Passing Errors||18||Passing Errors||12||MINN||Passing Errors||10||MINN|
|AVG Oppo RPI||68.1||AVG Oppo RPI**||63.9||PUSH||-||-||-|
- *Doesn't include Friday against MSU
- **Doesn't include MSU's RPI, which being around #18, will help weight it down to ~61.6 average opponent RPI
So with Dieter, I would have given the edge to Minnesota in just statistics, not to mention the home court advantage. With Dieter out of the lineup, Michigan picks up quite a few more matchups. That's a big drop in kills/game and even digs/game. I think the backups will be able to handle the digs, so that may not be such a big advantage for Michigan, but the kills… that'll hopefully be the game breaker.
Some of the ones Michigan still losses are also deceiving, such as service errors per game and attack percentage as Minnesota removed about 1/5 to 1/4 of their attempts on the season, inflating the overall totals. I don't think you can just assume that the backups will produce nearly as well as Dieter.
I'm liking our chances to get a big road win, but I'm in no way confident enough to pick an outright win. I could see this game going any number of different ways. If I had to buckle down and guess, though, I see Michigan victorious in 4 sets.
The match begins at 8ET (7pm local), so for those interested and with $3 to spare, check out the BTN.com. It should still be a good one.
(all pictures from MGoBlue.com)