The Wolverine

October 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Fast Start A High-Octane Offense Is Propelling The Wolverines W By Andy Reid hen the Michigan volleyball team competed in the Morehead State Eagle Challenge during the opening weekend of the 2011 season, head coach Mark Rosen wasn���t exactly sure what to expect. The Wolverines were breaking in Lexi Dannemiller, a new starter ��� and a true freshman at that ��� at setter, one of the most crucial positions on the court, but there was a lot of talent around her. That weekend, Michigan won three matches, dropping only one set in the process, but Rosen saw one major cause for concern: the team averaged just 12.3 kills per set. If that continued, the Wolverines would have one of the weakest offenses in the Big Ten (through Sept. 24, Iowa ranked last in the conference with 12.44 kills per set). Rosen sat the team down before the next practice, highlighted the stat and talked about ways in which U-M could be more aggressive. Since then, the offense has been nearly unstoppable, helping the Wolverines to a 13-1 start to the season through Sept. 24. The Maize and Blue ranked No. 1 nationally with 15.10 kills per set as of Sept. 18, the last time the national statistics were updated. After the first weekend of Big Ten play, Michigan was hitting 14.9 kills per game, good for the best in the conference. The Wolverines also ranked first in the Big Ten in aces per set with 2.00. ���Digs are a great stat, but they don���t get you points. Service aces and kills get you points,��� Rosen said. ���Our game is very much a sprint to who can get to 25 points the fastest, so kills are very, very valuable. ���That���s one of the things that encourages me a lot, is that we can be very offensive and can gouge teams pretty good for kills and aces.��� The nation���s second-most explosive True freshman setter Lexi Dannemiller (No. 10) ranked seventh nationally and first in the Big Ten with 561 assists, helping U-M to a 13-1 start to the season as of Sept. 24. Photo courtesy U-M Sports Information offense, in terms of kills per set, was Northern Illinois, which relies heavily on one player ��� Lauren Wicinski ranked second nationally with 5.17 kills per set ��� but the Wolverines have a deeper and more sustainable offensive model. While a defense can key on Wicinski to slow down Northern Illinois, Michigan has options all over the court. Five Wolverines had already notched at least 100 kills, displaying expert offensive distribution. Senior outside hitter Alex Hunt led the way with 163. Sophomore outside ��� Senior outside hitter Alex Hunt ���If they pick one player to stop for a game, everyone else is just going to go off. I think we can be pretty dangerous.��� hitter Lexi Erwin had added 156, senior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher had 123 and redshirt junior right side hitter Claire McElheny had 132. Sophomore middle blocker Jennifer Cross (100) and Dannemiller (28) had also contributed significantly to the kills department. ���We���re getting kills from every position on the court, so we���re a pretty hard force to stop,��� Hunt said. ���If they pick one player to stop for a game, everyone else is just going to go off. I think we can be pretty dangerous.��� When Rosen looked at his roster before the season, he knew he had the veteran talent to be a strong offensive team. Hunt was a third-team All-American in 2010 and had posted 1,211 career kills entering this season. Fletcher was a talented player who had started 29 games last season, and Erwin had progressed nicely as a freshman in 2010, posting 87 total kills, including a career-high 13 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But a large part of whether the Wolverines could emerge as an offensive juggernaut rested on Dannemiller���s shoulders. Without a strong setter, the offense would not get the opportunities to nail opposing defenses. In her first year her with the Wolverines, Dannemiller was faced with the unenviable task of replacing the best setter in program history, Lexi Zimmerman, who ended her career as a three-time All-American and the record holder for most career assists with 5,903. Dannemiller ranked seventh nationally and first in the Big Ten with 561 assists (11.69 per set), setting up Hunt and Co. with kill shots. She���s just off the pace that Zimmerman set in her freshman season, with 13.1 assists per set. ���I was a little nervous at first, but I think I���m adjusting to the college game a little more every week,��� Dannemiller said. Her progress through 14 matches is the best the team could have hoped for. ���If that position wasn���t solid, we wouldn���t be able compete at this level,��� Rosen said. ���She���s done a great job and been one of the major factors that has allowed us to be successful. ���It���s exciting. She has a lot of steps to go through, which will allow her to be really, really good in the future.��� The Wolverines dropped their first conference test, a 3-0 decision to No. 13 Purdue. Although the Big Ten has always been a tough league, this may be the best it���s ever been. The conference leads the nation with seven ranked teams, after Big Ten squads posted an incredible 111-23 record during the non-conference season through Sept. 22. Illinois (third), Penn State (fifth), Minnesota (ninth) and Nebraska (10th) all rank in top 10, with No. 13 Purdue, No. 18 Michigan and No. 24 Ohio State joining them in the top 25. Since 1982, when the Big Ten adopted the round-robin method of determining a champion, the Wolverines have never finished higher than third in the conference (1997). With the overall depth and strength of the conference, it may be difficult to climb the Big Ten standings this year, but the Maize and Blue, who have finished fourth in each of the past two season with identical 12-8 records, is not backing down. ���Our goal is the same as it���s always been,��� Rosen said. ���To win the Big Ten and to put ourselves in a position to compete for the national championship.��� ��� October 2011��� ������ the wolverine��� 79

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