Spartans look to maintain momentum in critical stretch
Junior middle blocker Kelsey Kuipers, No. 10, reassures junior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski, No. 15, before the start of a game against Illinois on Oct. 13 at Jenison Field House. Katie Stiefel/ State News
Last weekend, the MSU volleyball team shocked the crowd at Jenison Field House when it toppled No. 4 Nebraska in a five-set thriller.
This weekend, the Spartans (19-7 overall, 7-7 Big Ten) look to repeat that episode, as they have the chance to knock off No. 10 Minnesota (20-5, 11-3) to start their Big Ten doubleheader.
The Golden Gophers, who are coached by former USA men’s and women’s volleyball head coach and Olympic gold medalist Hugh McCutcheon, are coming into East Lansing as winners in five of their last six matches.
The Spartans are looking to do more than beat back-to-back top 10-ranked teams — they also are hoping to avenge their five-set loss to the Golden Gophers more than a month ago.
The match at Minnesota last month appeared to be a win for the Spartans as they led 2-1, but they dropped the last two sets to make it a Minnesota victory. During the week building up to the rematch, head coach Cathy George said that the team is not shying away from what happened in the last meeting.
“(Before a match), we always go over the match that precedes it, so (this week), how we played Minnesota the first time we played them,” George said. “We let a five gamer slip away, and had an opportunity to win game four, but didn’t close out there.”
Coming off of a five-set victory against the No. 4 Cornhuskers, junior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski MSU will be carrying high hopes into the match.
“(Last weekend gives us) huge momentum,” Wicinski said. “We are playing well as a team, we fought together and pulled together and we also learned that you don’t have to play perfect volleyball to win big matches.”
The Spartans’ weekend doesn’t end with Minnesota, as they also welcome a struggling Wisconsin (16-11, 4-10) team to MSU on Saturday.
The Badgers, who have lost five of their last six games, are looking to get on track late in the season after their 13-1 start.
Two wins this weekend would give the Spartans a four-game winning streak — their longest since the middle of September. Junior setter Kristen Kelsay said that the Spartans’ first Big Ten sweep last weekend will give them a mental edge.
“Our goal every weekend is to get a sweep, but I think that now that we’ve done it, it’s something we know we can do, (and) way more of a reality,” Kelsay said.
The Spartans will be led on offense by Wicinski, who leads the Big Ten in kills with 4.42 per set.
The Spartans open up their weekend against Minnesota at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Jenison