It has been more than three months since MSU volleyball’s season started, and they now are hours away from starting the most crucial portion of the year: the NCAA Tournament.
It has been an up-and-down journey, with a point in the season where the Spartans lost four out of five games, and another stretch where MSU won six straight that included two top-10 victories.
Now that their first 32 games are over, junior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski said that her team is ready to move on to their seemingly new season.
“Tournament time is such an exciting time because it’s like another season,” Wicinski said. “You’re not playing teams that are in your conference, so it’s just an exciting time.”
For the first round of the tournament, the Spartans were sent out to Los Angeles to take on a team they have never faced before — the San Diego Toreros.
Head coach Cathy George stated that the Toreros’ biggest asset is their middle defense and offensive balance as they have five players who average more than two kills per set.
Although the Spartans will be playing against an unfamiliar, scrappy West Coast team, sophomore libero Kori Moster said the Spartans will not have to change much to match up with San Diego.
“If we play our system the way we have the whole season, with knowing the things that they do at the back of our minds, it’s just going to help us that much,” Moster said.
But before the Spartans take the floor on Friday, they will have to regain focus after taking their plane trip over three time zones. Although this is by far the most distance the Spartans have traveled all season, freshman setter Halle Peterson believes that landing in LA two days before the first match will help the team.
“We’ll be there for a couple of days, but it’s going to take a lot of focus in the days before,” Peterson said. “We’ll get there early and, once our practices are done, then we will be ready.”
If the Spartans take care of business in the first round, they will play the winner of the LIU Brooklyn-UCLA match. With UCLA being the heavy favorite, Moster pointed out that since both teams are from the same region, the Spartans expect to see UCLA’s style of play mirror San Diego’s.
“(San Diego) is a lot like UCLA, which is a good thing,” Moster said.
“Those are two teams (that run) the same system, and (San Diego) is a very scrappy team, as many West Coast teams are.”
UCLA, the defending national champion, comes into the tournament as the No. 7 seed, but LIU Brooklyn can’t be counted out either, as they are carrying a 19-match winning streak into the tournament.
UCLA, which is hosting the first two rounds of the tournament, has the nation’s third highest kills per set rate, at 14.83. Not only will the Spartans have to fight off a ferocious offensive attack, they will have to do so while playing in front of a crowd of UCLA supporters as well.
“I’m sure they are going to be pumped, because that is (their home crowd), but you still got to beat us,” Wicinski said.
When playing top-10 teams on the road, the Spartans have had their struggles, as they have only won two sets compared to nine losses against Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State.
However, if LIU Brooklyn pulls off the upset, the Spartans will be playing against the team with the nation’s ninth-highest aces per set rating, as the Blackbirds average 1.67 aces per set. The Blackbirds also know how to win, as they went undefeated in the Northeast Conference to capture the conference title.
The Spartans will be served their first dose of tournament action at 8:30 p.m. Friday in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.