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September 24, 2010 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-09-24

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Friday, September 24, 2010 - 5A

'M' opens Big Ten play
after starting year 11-1

Senior Lexi Zimmerman is 25 assists away from the breaking the Michigan all-time assists record, previously held by Linnea
Mendoza. Michigan coach Mark Rosen said Zimmerman may be the best player to ever suit up for the Wolverines.
Zimmerman ready
to mak real histoy

Want to see some real
history this weekend?
You know, the kind of
achievement that may never be
surpassed? Something like Wayne
Gretzky's single-season record of
92 goals or Cal Ripken Jr.'s "Iron
Man" streak of 2,632 consecu-
tive games played in the major
senior setter
Lexi Zimmer-
man is on pace
to accomplishl
pretty special
on Friday. With MARK
just 25 assists BURNS
separating her
from Linnea
Mendoza - the Wolverines' all-
time assists leader - the spotlight
will shine ever so brightly on the
Barrington, Illinois native inside
Cljffea~enAryea tonight. , -
The only question is when last
year's Michigan Female Athlete
of the Year will finally eclipse
the historic mark. Early in the
second set? Toward the end of
the frame? Possibly as late as the
third? This I'll guarantee: barring

any unforeseen circumstances,
Zimmerman will make some real
history against Iowa.
All of Zimmerman's hard
work - extra workout sessions
and dedication in the gym - will
culminate ina record-breaking
performance, even if it isn't a
surprise, and one that you need to
truly witness.
Arguably the best volleyball
player to have worn the maize
and blue in program history, Zim-
merman has been at the heart of
all the Wolverines' success in the
past three seasons, the program's
most successful stretch run.
Just look at the wall next to
the electronic scoreboard at Cliff
Keen and you'll see what I'm talk-
ing about.
Since her freshman year, Zim-
merman has started in every set
of every Wolverine match, a total
of 119 consecutive matches. She's
overcome an injury to her right
thiAb last October,, ot missing
a beat as she led Michigan to an
Elite Eight appearance, its best
finishever. t!I k"
Oh, by the way, she also led the
nation in assists in 2009.
Not to mention that Zimmer-
man isn't going to barely squeak

by or just topple the all-time
mark. She is going to crush the
If Zimmerman continues at
this pace, by season's end she will
have roughly 1,000 more assists
than the closest setter. That
seems pretty unreachable - for a
while at least.
With a host of other Michigan
records to her name - first fresh-
man setter to start an NCAA
Tournament match, most assists
in a single season and first Wol-
verine to be named to the AVCA
All-American first team - this
one is the record.
Even if you don't care at all
for volleyball or aren't too crazy
about sports in general, head to
State and Hoover tonight. Grab
a few friends. Throw on some
maize garb. Witness some real
Oh, and remember how I was
telling you Zimmerman will
probably crush Michigan's all-
time assist record by 1,000. Well,
she's at 5,048 now.
The Big Ten record is 6,087.
Think about it.
Burns can reached at

Daily Sports Writer
The Michigan volleyball team
and coach Mark Rosen refer to their
first 12 games as the "preseason."
Though its 11-1 non-conference
record has just as legitimate an
influence on Michigan's postseason
as Big Ten games do, the Wolver-
ines have treated their first dozen
games more like a warm-up than
anything else.
Michigan used this preseason
to get its younger players adjusted
to Division I volleyball, to give
the older players more experience
working with the younger players
and to give the coaches different
ideas about how to rely less on the
Michigan started strong in the
Rocket Classic by defeating Bing-
hamton and Loyala 3-0. But in the
tournament's final match, Toledo
upset the Wolverines, 3-2. After the
game, Michigan coach Mark Rosen
sat against the wall on the floor
outside of the locker room. Nearly
speechless, it was clear that Rosen
did not intend for this to happen
again. Maybe his team wasn't as
good this season.
"In hindsight, the slip-up against
Toledo was a good thing," Rosen
said this week. "We saw who we
were, and we saw how we were.
If we didn't open our eyes to that
we would not know where we are
Michigan then played in the
Active Ankle Challenge in Corval-
lis, Oregon one weekend and in the
Michigan/Adidas tournament in
Ann Arbor the next. The Wolver-
ines walked away with a first-place
finish in both. They defeated five
of their six opponents 3-0. Oregon
State provided the only challenge,
but Michigan still had no trouble
beating the Beavers 3-1.
The Wolverines used those six
games to improve communication
between a host of new and experi-
enced players. It took some getting
used to, but by the end of the six-
game stretch, Michigan had played
every person on its active roster.
"I think the freshmen are ready,"
senior defensive specialist Maggie
Busch said. "They have gotten com-
fortable with us. The game now is
different then club and high school.
Keeping with the pace ... they have

The Michigan volleyball team made it all the way to the Elite 8 last season.

adjusted. And they have gotten
used to the emotional side of it."
Junior outside hitter Alex Hunt
had the most kills in three of those
games. Likewise, right side Claire
McElheny and middle blockers
Courtney Fletcher and Jennifer
Cross each led the team in kills for
one of those games, helping Hunt
shoulder the load.
"All five of our freshmen have at
one point or another impacted us
and not all at the same time, and
thank God," Rosen said jokingly
after practice on Tuesday. "But I
don't think we ever had a freshman
class where all had impacted us.
We're going to be young for a long
time, but we are getting less young."
Michigan learned three things
in its preseason tournaments. First,
the team no longer has to revolve
around Hunt's hot hand, which was
the expectation with such a young
"There is no question that we
will have to be balanced to be suc-
cessful," Busch said. "Alex is our
big gun, and we will use her. But we
trust our young girls. We do have
the ability to be a well balanced
Secondly, the freshmen have
proven reliable. Cross and fellow
freshman Lexi Erwin played valu-
able minutes and accounted for 137

kills in the "preseason." That's 23
percent, overall.
Lastly, the freshmen got a chance
to play with senior setter Lexi Zim-
merman. The Wolverines run a
nuanced offense, with only one set-
ters. The entire team must know
how that one setter plays. The expe-
rience the freshmen gained playing
with Zimmerman will be needed
when they are playing a fast-paced
conference team.
The Wolverines traveled to Ari-
zona for the ASU Sheraton tour-
nament last weekend. Michigan
defeated three of its toughest oppo-
nents each in 3-1 matches to finish
in the most ideal way heading into
conference play.
Big Ten play starts tonight
against Iowa, as the Wolverines sit
at fourth in the conference stand-
ings and the Hawkeyes rank last.
But as the Wolverines know too
well - you can never be too sure
aboutyour opponent.
"I told the girls today we want to
have signature wins and afterward
say, 'That's a good win right there,"'
Rosen said on Tuesday. "We haven't
had signature wins yet because we
haven't played signature teams.
We've only played the preseason.
But now that we have the opportu-
nity, (we'll) have the chance to see
what's ahead of us."

After an injury-plagued career,
* Nissen remains part of team

For the Daily
Adorning the locker room wall
of the Michigan volleyball team is
a simple, yet meaningful phrase.
'Committed to the unknown'. Jack-
ie Nissen, as she entered the locker
room as a young freshman, had
dreams of becoming an All-Atheri-
can, leaving her mark at Cliff Keen
Michigan athletes who walk
through the locker room are all
ultimately "committed to the
unknown." As the players know
hauntingly too well, in sports there
are no guarantees.
They understand some goals are
dreams that may be attainable at
one point in time, and due to cir-
cumstances unachievable in the
next. The Wolverines witnessed
this in Jackie Nissen, whose injuries
throughout her career have made
her dreams of being an All-Ameri-
can unachievable.
The injuries started in Nissen's
junior year of high school in 2006,
when she had a surgery to shorten a
tendon in her shoulder. The simple
surgery allowed her to continue to
play. But she then needed yet anoth-
er on her shoulder to fix her torn
"I remember vaguely the doctor
saying that there was a small chance
of (it) getting irritated (because)
right where they had to fix it, it was
where my bicep was." Nissen recalls
of her meeting with the doctor prior
to her second surgery. "But it was a
really small chance."
She optimistically rehabbed,
believing that this small chance of
irritation that the doctor warned
her of would not happen to her. But
it did. She had pain flowing through
her arm, specifically where her
bicep attached, just as the doctor
said might occur. Pain became the
theme of her life as a student-ath-
Once again, the only relief she
would have from the pain would
be another surgery. Reluctant to
endure the rehab and recovery of
another surgery, Nissen opted for a
cortisone shot to help the pain.

"It wasgreat while it lasted." Nis-
sen says, her voice trailing off.
Although the cortisone shot
allowed her to participate in prac-
tice, she left practice with a limb
that felt as if it weighed 100 pounds,
causing her pain to intensify. Final-
ly, she succumbed to the idea of a
third surgery, which she underwent
in 2008.
In the meantime, a stress frac-
ture was added to her injuries, leav-
ing Nissen with a swollen foot. And
after months of medicating her-
self through practices and restless
nights filled with pain, Nissen sat
down with her doctor and Michigan
coach Mark Rosen. The three came
to the decision for her to finally call
it quits.
Surprisingly, Nissen described
her decision to be done with playing
college volleyball as a relief.
"If you had talked to me two
months before it, I would've said,
'Absolutely not, I want to give
this everything,' " she recalls.
"But when he came to me it was
a relief"
Although playing volleyball is
no longer a part of her life, Nis-
sen hasn't given up her place on
the team. Taking her injuries in
stride, she worked on a plan with
Rosen to be the team's student
"Coach told me I could define
whatever type of position I want-
ed, and I told him I just wanted
to be treated like I'm an injured
player," Nissen said. "I want to
travel if it's possible."
While the job at first didn't
entail traveling, after her team-
mates insisted, Rosen agreed to
let her partake in all the activi-
ties an injured player would.
Whether it was pointing out
things to aid in the develop-
ment of the middle blockers or
shagging balls to help practice
run smoother, her day-to-day
role is obvious to those on the
Despite her injury-plagued
career, through good and bad,
Nissen has an aura of grace
which has been admirable to
newcomers on the team. In fact,

senior defensive specialist and
housemate of Nissen, Maggie
Busch, sees her as someone who
the freshmen can easily look up
"They feel comfortable around
her," Busch said. "She leads by
example ... (which) I feel is truly
rare in this world."
Nissen is also the first vol-
leyball player to go through the
nursing school under Rosen, a
feat requiring impeccable time
management as well as intense
Nissen has taken on her chal-
lenges and obstacles with vigor.
"Because I committed to
coming here, I committed to
playing volleyball here and if
I can't do that I want to make
sure I finish out strong," Nissen
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