Aug. 21, 2012
The University of Michigan volleyball team returns to the court in 2012 after earning a fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 in 2011. The Wolverines returns four starters and seven letterwinners from last year's squad but also brings in a recruiting class that is ranked No. 12 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.
Sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller is back for her second season after being named to the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team last year. Dannemiller is joined by fifth-year right side Claire McElheny, the team's only senior, and juniors Jennifer Cross (middle blocker) and Lexi Erwin (outside hitter) from last year's starting lineup.
Michigan opens the season Friday, Aug. 24, against Nicholls State in Columbia, Mo. The Maize and Blue has 16 home matches, beginning with the adidas/Michigan Invitational Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in Cliff Keen Arena.
Head coach Mark Rosen, in his 14th season at the helm at U-M, talked about the 2012 version of the Wolverines.
What are your expectations for the team?
"I think our expectations are always to try and develop and grow as much as we possibly can. We want to perform at the very highest level this team is capable of. Throughout the year, our goal is to never stop developing, never stop growing. Certainly at Michigan, our goal is to compete to win the Big Ten. There are 11 other teams in the Big Ten and I think we would be crazy not to think that we want to go out there and try to win it. I think with that, on the national scope, we certainly have the NCAA and postseason competition as a carrot that's out there all the time. I think we take care more of the process of what are we going to do every day to get better. If we get better every single day then at some point we should be pretty good. That's our number one goal."
What's the biggest challenge?
"I think our biggest challenge right now is youth. We're just young and so we have a lot of learning to do, but I think it's also positive and it's exciting. I think the biggest challenge is to make sure we continue to grow. Growth never gets stagnant from lots of things, whether it's fatigue, physical or mental, that can slow that process. We don't want that to happen. It could be people feeling that they've got it all figured out. Well, we don't want that to happen. It could be frustration because maybe things don't go well and we shut down that way. I think the biggest thing for us is we never want to shut down. We want to continue to just grow, develop and mature from the first day of the season to the last day."
What kind of team/style of play can fans expect to see?
"I think every team is different. You have to figure out how this team is going to come together to be successful at the highest level. I think we're still figuring that out a little bit. We are certainly seeing some early indicators. We control the ball very well, especially on first contact, our serve-receive contact and our serving contact. Defensively, it's still to be determined. We seem to be able to control the ball very well and we have a lot of players that can do that. We have a lot of options in ball control. With that, I don't think we're the most physical team we're going to see all year, but we're not lacking in physicality either. It's still to be determined, but I think ball control is going to be a big key, defensively oriented, fast and a pretty tight system. Having a veteran setter like Lexi (Dannemiller) is going to allow us to run that offense a little more intricate than we could if we didn't have an experienced and as quality of a setter."
What are the must-see home events?
"Every Big Ten match is good, but certainly when Michigan State comes in, that's a big rival match. When Penn State comes to town, there seems to be a big turnout. The same thing with Nebraska, those are some pretty big-name teams. One is ranked No. 2 in preseason and the other ranked fourth. Those are quality opponents. Illinois, coming off the national championship finals, will be in town this year. It's hard to just pick one. I think in preseason, we have a nice lineup. Central Michigan is going to be a great first home match. They're legit and a good MAC team. That will be a good match and we follow that up the next night with Arkansas. Those are two really good opponents in the first weekend. On the second weekend, Western Kentucky is really good. There an NCAA team every year and their conference is very strong. They're going to be a formidable opponent. We then have Duke, who is a very, very strong ACC team that second night. Our preseason matches I think are going to be exciting for people to see and if you come to anyone of the Big Ten matches, you're going to be happy."
What does the Big Ten landscape look like this season?
"It's the same as every year. I think it's silly when we try to pick where we're going to finish at the end of the year as a conference, because none of us know even though we're the experts. That's what we do. It could be wide open. I think that teams could move and teams that were at the top might not be at the top this year and vice versa. It's that open. A lot of it is how much we can develop throughout the course of the year."