Down to the Core
Sept. 4, 2007
by Jeff Smith
At the start of the 2007 volleyball season, Michigan was receiving votes in the CSTV/AVCA Top 25 poll. That was three weeks ago and a whole lot has changed since.
Michigan found paradise in Honolulu during its season opener when it upset then-No. 10 Hawaii in five games. The match took place on Hawaii's home court in the Stan Sheriff Center in front of 7,343 fans.
To compete - and win - in that atmosphere, a team must have experience and leadership from a solid core. Michigan found and continues to find its strength through three seniors in Katie Bruzdzinski, Lyndsay Miller and Stesha Selsky.
Head coach Mark Rosen has seen this senior core get stronger through the years and admits that his three leaders have been contributing since their very first match.
"One of the easiest ways to look at their contributions as a whole is that these three started every game since their freshman season," he said. "They represent a tough and physical core and they are the leaders and heart and soul of this team."
Bruzdzinski is a three-time captain of the Maize and Blue and an All-Big Ten selection. The Naperville, Ill., native was named to the AVCA All-Region team last season and is quickly approaching the school's all-time career kills record. Pun intended, all Bruzdzinski has done during her career is kill the school's record book. She set the single-season mark for kills by a fresh man (355), was the second-fastest of 42 players to reach 500 career kills and since became the quickest of the Wolverine bunch to record 1,000 slams for her career.
Currently, she is tied with Erin Moore (2000-03) for second all-time with 1,384 kills. When asked about the upcoming kills record, Bruzdzinski dismisses it saying she is just going about her job.
"I don't really think about the kill record and to be honest, I didn't know how close I was until someone just mentioned it to me," she said. "I always expect to get kills for my team because that is my job."
Miller, a native of Ida, Mich., is on pace to establish the all-time career blocks mark for the Wolverines. As a freshman she recorded the second-most single-season blocks in U-M history (160 in 2004) and currently sits fifth all-time with 372. She is exactly 100 blocks shy of matching the school's record, set by Katrina Lehman from 1999-2002.
But just like Bruzdzinski, Miller is more concerned on the team's status rather than her individual acclaim.
Three weeks after receiving votes in the Top 25, Michigan has stormed up the poll to No. 14 - the highest ranking in the school's history.
"We deserve to be up there, but I always feel we are good enough to be ranked," Miller said. "It's exciting to be up there, but it's not everything. We are a good team right now and the ranking is just an extra bonus."
Other bonuses that have come Michigan's way this year have come from the play of Selsky. The native of Manhattan Beach, Calif., who is already the school's career leader and 10th all-time in the Big Ten with 1,545 digs, has been named the conference's Defensive Player of the Week in each of the first two weeks of the season.
"To be completely honest, it's more important that the team does well," Selsky said. "There is so much that happens before the ball gets to the defense. The awards have been great, but it's really much more of a team effort than individual."
Perhaps the block M stitched in their jerseys represents "modesty" instead of "Michigan". Or perhaps it stands for "mentality," such as what this core group of seniors has had to have to build this Wolverine program into a top contender.
The Big Ten volleyball landscape has been blue over the past few years. Not blue as in bruised or scarce - there are five current Big Ten squads ranked in the Top 25, led by No. 3 Penn State, No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 12 Minnesota. Following Michigan is No. 20 Ohio State and Purdue, which is receiving votes. So it's not that kind of blue.
It's also not the blue in Maize and Blue, although the volleyball faithful across the country is amazed of the leap to stardom the Wolverines have taken in only a matter of weeks.
The blue that has represented the Big Ten in past years has been Penn State blue. The Nittany Lions have captured the last four Big Ten Championships and are again among the tops in the country.
Buit it all comes back to the core of U-M and Miller feels that this year will culminate in something great.
"I definitely think we have a chance (in the Big Ten) this year and we are certainly not afraid of anyone," she said. "We feel we should be at the top of the conference each year and I think with the good start we have had this season, we are really focused and it's going to happen."
Rosen is another who left the "Big Island" two weeks ago impressed with the start to the year and excited for what is to come.
"The team has worked really hard dating back to the spring," he said. "We have taken big strides and continue to mature. I like how we competed in Hawaii and how we found ways to win when are backs were against the wall."
What is impressive about this Wolverine core is the willingness each of three seniors, along with classmate Sarah Draves, has to contribute in any way to make this team a winner. Records speak for themselves and it appears that at the end of this senior campaign, Bruzdzinski, Miller and Selsky will all be able to leave Ann Arbor with an all-time career record in the books.
However these student-athletes prefer to be measured by their contributions to the team rather their individual accomplishments.
"(Playing at Michigan) has been one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had and I'm so proud to be here," Selsky said. "We have a deep connection on this team, and if one of us is struggling, we can shift or adjust to help someone out."
After all, that is what is expected of leaders and that is what you find at the core of every team.