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What Else Is Blue Makes One More NCAA Tournament

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While the fall season is almost totally complete after both soccer teams drop tournament games, volleyball starts the NCAA Tournament this week, and women’s basketball plays another big one.

Michigan Photography

The end of the fall season is just about here. With both soccer teams ending their runs this week, the only fall sport left alive is volleyball, which is just starting the NCAA Tournament. It has been a very successful fall for the Wolverines, with every team so far finishing in their sport’s top 16. Field Hockey avoided a play-in game, qualifying directly for the 16 team first round of the NCAA Tournament. Women’s and men’s soccer both made the Sweet 16, with men’s soccer still alive. Men’s cross country finished 7th, and women’s finished 13th. Volleyball still has an uphill climb to get to the Sweet 16, but got a decent draw in the NCAA Tournament. One week from now, we could be talking about one of the most successful sports seasons of all time.

This Week’s One Thing:

Women’s basketball v. Syracuse, Thu Dec. 5, 9p

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge comes to Crisler this Thursday. After the loss to Notre Dame, Michigan has two more chances to prove itself in the non-conference, starting with this home tilt against Syracuse. While preseason projections had this as a ranked match-up, Syracuse has fallen out of the rankings. Losses to Oregon and Stanford are acceptable, but Syracuse suffered an OT upset against Green Bay at their holiday tournament in Victoria, BC. Much like the Notre Dame game, both teams have a lot to prove. Syracuse is likely still the more talented team, and should get it together in ACC play. A Michigan win will look better and better as the season goes on.

If you can’t make it to Crisler for a 9pm match, it’ll be on TV on ESPN.

Volleyball (20-10, 13-7 B1G)

Last Week: 3-0 L @ #16 Purdue, 3-2 L v. #16 Purdue, 3-1 W v. Indiana

Upcoming: NCAA Tournament First Round, Fri Dec. 6, 5p v. Northern Kentucky, Lexington, KY

NCAA Tournament Second Round, Sat Dec. 7, 7p v. #9 Kentucky/Southeast Missouri State

Michigan dropped a pair against the Boilermakers this week before closing their season with a win. First, they travelled to West Lafayette, and got pounded, dropping all three sets. The Ann Arbor leg was trending the same way, with Michigan down 2-0. Michigan won the third set, then came out firing in the fourth, dominating the set and sending it to a decisive fifth. After Michigan worked the score to 9-9, the teams traded 17 straight points. Michigan would go up a point, and Purdue would tie it up again. During the rally, Michigan had four match points. Finally, Purdue got two straight points, Michigan fought off one match point, but couldn’t fight off a second. An absolute gut punch of a loss after coming so close to completing the comeback. On Senior Night at home, Michigan closed their regular season with an easy win over Indiana.

When it was all said and done, Michigan barely sweated out its NCAA Tournament bid. Michigan will head to the campus of 9-seed Kentucky to take on Northern Kentucky in their first round matchup. NKU finished fourth in the Horizon League, finishing the regular season on a five-game win streak before winning the conference tournament and an NCAA Tourney bid. A Michigan win would almost certainly mean a match against SEC Champion Kentucky. I expected that Michigan would face an even higher-seeded team, but Kentucky will be a very difficult squad to beat if Michigan wants to return to the Sweet 16.

Volleyballs matches will be on ESPN3, in the ESPN app.

#13 Men’s Soccer (11-5-6, 4-1-3 B1G)

Last Week: 0-0 (5-4 PKs) W v. Wright State, 3-1 L v. Wake Forest

Men’s soccer earned the thirteenth seed, a home match, and a bye to the second round. While it seemed likely they would take on Notre Dame in a rematch of last year’s second round, Wright State pulled off the upset in South Bend and came to Ann Arbor. The teams played 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, with Wright State showing that the Notre Dame match was no fluke. In the shootout, Owen Finnerty only made one save, but it was enough as the Wolverines made all five shots.

Michigan travelled to Wake with high hopes of pulling off an upset and hosting an Elite Eight matchup. The two teams played an aggressive, defensive first half with each team controlling stretches of play. Wake Forest scored just out of halftime to take the 1-0 lead, and while Michigan had several golden chances for an equalizer, a PK made it 2-0 Wake Forest. Michigan got one back from Derick Broche and had 14 minutes to tie, but Wake scored the true dagger with seven minutes to play. Michigan’s season ended in the Sweet 16.

Michigan will remember the 2019 season very positively, as they made three straight NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history. Michigan only lost one Big Ten match, and made the Big Ten Tournament finals. They’ll lose some big pieces, as Jack Hallahan will graduate as one of the greatest players in school history, and Nebojsa Popovic will exit his grad transfer year with the Big Ten’s Golden Boot. But there were six juniors in the starting lineup, and Owen Finnerty established himself as an elite keeper as a freshman. If someone can replace Hallahan’s setup ability, this team will go far again next season.

#19 Women’s Soccer (17-6-1, 8-2-1 B1G)

Last Week: 3-2 W v. #15 Texas Tech, 4-0 L @ #2 UNC

Women’s soccer headed to Chapel Hill last weekend for rounds two and three of the NCAA Tournament, and pulled off an upset before being eliminated. Michigan controlled the match against higher-seeded Texas Tech. Sarah Stratigakis earned a PK within the first ten minutes but put it into the woodwork. Minutes later she made up for the mistake, scoring off a steal just seven minutes into the match. Texas Tech tied it up by halftime, but two Danielle Wolfe goals in the second half took the games for the Wolverines. Tech added one very late, but the 3-2 lead held and Michigan moved to the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, they ran into juggernaut North Carolina, and the Tarheels’ superior talent won out. UNC won 4-0, and Michigan’s season is over.

Michigan women’s soccer exceeded expectations in every way this season. The Wolverines were picked to finish fifth in the conference, and not make any noise nationally. At the beginning of the season, I was watching the RPI hoping that Michigan would sneak into an NCAA Tournament road game. Instead, they hosted the first round and made the Sweet 16. Jennifer Klein has dramatically improved the program in just her second year. The best part? Everyone comes back next year. Michigan only has three graduating seniors, and while Sura Yekka will be missed on defense, almost none of the offensive production leaves. While this year Michigan was just happy to be there, next season they’ll start with high hopes.

#24 Women’s Basketball (5-1)

Last Week: 76-72 L v. Notre Dame, 57-38 W @ Eastern Michigan, 80-48 W v. Morgan St.

Upcoming: Thu Dec. 5, 9p v. Syracuse, ESPN, Sun Dec. 8, 2p v. Oakland

Michigan played its first big game of the year, welcoming Notre Dame to Crisler Center. In a game marred by turnovers and iffy defense, Michigan took a frustrating loss in a game they’ll feel they should have won. Michigan led by as many as 11 early in the second half, but couldn’t hit their shots down the stretch. For much of the game Michigan was doing just enough to maintain their lead, but eventually doing just enough wasn’t enough. There were individual bright spots: both Amy Dilk and Naz Hillmon recorded double-doubles. While a loss to Notre Dame will probably hold up from an RPI perspective, it’s frustrating to miss out on an opportunity to announce yourself on the national stage. Michigan then traveled to Eastern Michigan for a matinee before Thanksgiving. Michigan struggled in many ways on offense, but was simply better than EMU. The defense wasn’t giving the Eagles any shots, and when they got the shots they couldn’t hit them. Michigan took a similar win against Morgan State on Sunday.

Michigan now hosts its second high-level ACC team at Crisler Arena, welcoming Syracuse in a Thursday nightcap. Michigan then welcomes Oakland. The Grizzlies are 4-3, with a loss to MSU.

Cross Country

Last Week: NCAA Championships, Terre Haute, IN

Men: 7th of 31, Women: 13th of 31

The men’s and women’s cross country teams traveled to the campus of Indiana State to compete in the national championships. The men put in a top-10 performance, finishing 7th, exceeding their rank coming into the meet by 10 spots. Devin Meyrer led the Wolverines with his 16th-place finish, with Jack Aho and Isaac Harding joining him in the top 50.

The women finished 13th, a disappointment after coming in at #8 in the country. The bright spot was the same as it has been all season; Ericka VanderLende finished 25th. VanderLende’s freshman season was extremely impressive, and it’ll be exciting to see what she can do next year.

#22 Wrestling (1-1)

Last Week: 22-12 W v. Central Michigan

Upcoming: Fri-Sat Dec. 6-7, Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational

Michigan picked up its first dual win of the season, defeating Central Michigan at Cliff Keen Arena. Michigan won six matches to Central’s four, making a huge comeback after the Chips opened 3-1. Mason Parris continued his undefeated heavyweight season, beating Matt Stencel for the second time in as many weeks. Parris is ranked 3rd in the country individually.

Michigan will head to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Invitational, their final meet of 2019. This will be an individual tournament, with many of the best teams in the country attending, including top 10 Arizona State, Virginia Tech, and NC State.

Swim/Dive

Upcoming: Wed-Sun Dec. 4-8, Minnesota Invitational

Both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will close out 2019 in Minneapolis, visiting the Gophers for the Minnesota Invite. The same schools will compete in both the men’s and women’s events, and on the men’s side #1 Texas, #2 Cal, and #5 Michigan are all in the top 5, while Arizona and Iowa join them in the rankings. On the women’s side, the best-ranked teams are #3 Cal and #5 Texas, while Michigan sits at #18 and Minnesota at #21. Along with the schools already mentioned, Harvard will be in attendance.