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December 10, 2012

Volleyball makes history, competes for national title

The Michigan volleyball team is making history. After beating Stanford 3-1 Dec. 8, the Wolverines advanced to the first Final Four in the program's 40 seasons and could be just the third U-M women's sports program, and the first since softball in 2005, to capture a national title.

"Our team is extremely excited to be in the Final Four, but we don't feel like we've accomplished our goal yet," said Mark Rosen, Michigan's coach since 1999.

"There is no one on our team doesn't believe it can beat. And, as coaches, we feel the same way. We're looking at Texas right now and they're very good, very talented, do some things unique to their program, but we feel we have answers for them. We can defend them and we can attack them."

Michigan has qualified for the postseason in 12 of Rosen's 14 seasons as coach, advancing to its first Sweet 16 in 2007, another in 2008, the Elite Eight in 2009, and its fourth Sweet 16 appearance in 2011. However, U-M began this year's NCAA Tournament a No. 3 seed (out of four) in the Louisville bracket, needing to upset Tennessee and then the Cardinals.

The Wolverines did just that, setting up a third contest this year against in-state rival Michigan State Dec. 7. After splitting with the Spartans this season - each team swept on their home court - U-M blitzed MSU 3-0 to advance to its second Elite Eight.

Michigan would meet No. 2 Stanford (also the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament) in Berkley, Calif., and after losing game one 25-20, the Maize and Blue roared back for three consecutive 25-20 victories.

"We've been a very resilient team all season," Rosen said. "We play point to point, game to game, and we don't let one bad game, one bad play affect us. We just move on to what's in front of us.

"The other thing this team does extremely well is it learns as it goes. In our first set, the girls on the floor were absorbing information, learning Stanford's tendencies and weaknesses, and they sort of figured out on their own how to attack them after that.

"That's your dream as a coach. We're watching, we're adapting from the sideline and most of the time you have to then tell your team how to change its approach, but when they can do it on the court, it's incredible because now you can really get after your opponent before they can adjust."

The road to a championship doesn't get any easier for U-M; Michigan will meet No. 3 Texas (again the No. 3 overall seed) this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. (live on ESPN2) and if it advances to the championship will either play No. 5 Oregon or No. 1 Penn State. The Wolverines are 3-43 all time against the Nittany Lions, having lost 20 in a row to PSU, taking Penn State to five games only twice in those 20 meetings.

Still, like the 2005 softball team and the 2001 field hockey team, there is something special about this group.

"The kids have always wanted to learn and get better, and they continue to bring great energy to the court every time we practice or play," Rosen said.

"The other thing is, they're really a team. We watched that famous clip of Bo Schembechler about a third into the season and while we're not trying to steal anyone else's identity, this is a group that really loves playing for each other. They're connected, and when one of their teammates is struggling, they rally around her. It's really been something special to watch."



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