Volleyball in California? Yeah, that makes sense.
The University of Michigan volleyball team will open its 45th season of play this weekend as the Maize and Blue head to the West Coast to compete in the USC/LMU Invite. While the games will be inside on a gym floor, the Wolverines might be able to carve out some free time for some beach volleyball.
But the trip will be a great tune-up for the busy schedule ahead including the always competitive Big Ten matchups that highlight the schedule over the next few months.
The Wolverines will open the 2017 campaign Friday with two matches at the USC’s Galen Center, beginning with a contest against Albany (11 a.m. PDT) and finishing the day with a match against co-host USC (8 p.m. PDT). The first weekend of play will wrap up on Saturday (Aug. 26) with a match against co-host Loyola Marymount (7 p.m. PDT) at the LMU’s Gersten Pavilion.
The Wolverines, under the direction of longtime and successful coach Mark Rosen, are looking to build on last season which featured a 22-10 record, and the highest seed (12th) ever for a Michigan team in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines rode the momentum to a Sweet 16 appearance before losing in five sets in the regional semifinals. Michigan was one of eight Big Ten Conference teams to earn a selection to the NCAA postseason, which ranked the most in the nation.
Rosen, in his 19th year with the Wolverines, has compiled a 363-232 record and has guided Michigan to 15 of its 16 NCAA postseason appearances. Rosen, the winningest coach in program history, will have a strong group to help add to that total this season.
Led by captains Claire Kieffer-Wright, Katherine Mahlke and Carly Skjodt, the Wolverines will look to continue their offensive excellence in 2017. Dropping just 11 matches on the year, including eight against top-25 opponents, the Maize and Blue ended an impressive 2016 season with a program-record .258 team attack average, which broke the previous mark of .251 set in 2004 when Michigan advanced to an NCAA regional final.
Michigan returns 12 players from last year’s squad, including 11 letter winners and four starters, which includes sophomore setter MacKenzi Welsh, who was a 2016 AVCA All-America honorable mention after averaging 10.61 assists per set in her debut season with the Maize and Blue. The Wolverine front row is also led by Kieffer-Wright (preseason All-Big Ten), Mahlke and Adeja Lambert, as well as Skjodt and redshirt sophomore Cori Crocker, while libero Jenna Lerg will anchor the back row.
Armed with a No. 16 ranking in the 2017 AVCA preseason poll, the Wolverines are set to face seven opponents currently ranked in the top 25 this season. Rankings aside, Michigan will face 10 opponents that advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2016. Michigan finished the 2016 campaign with multiple victories over ranked opponents, including home wins over Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Oregon.