For MSU volleyball head coach Cathy George, this season has been a remarkable one for her already impressive résumé.
She has seen her Spartans topple top-10 teams, kept the State Pride Flag out of rival Michigan’s hands and brought in career win No. 500. This past weekend, those accomplishments took a back seat to the Spartans’ biggest victory of the year, as MSU stunned the defending national champion, No. 7 UCLA, to advance to the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
The match was more of a statement for the program, as it was their third victory over a top-ten team this season. With all the success against the nation’s top teams this year, George said that her team had no choice but to upset teams that have looked at them as underdogs since the start of the year.
“(Underdogs are) what we are, so we go about it,” George said. “We didn’t play an extremely tough preconference schedule, so that gave teams mystery (as to how good we really were).”
Now that the Spartans are more than two months removed from their last preconference match, they still are making noise on their way to the Final Four in Louisville, Ky.
But as unexpected as their tournament run has been, they will face a familiar foe that has made their own statements in the tournament as well — in-state rival Michigan.
The Wolverines topped No. 10 Louisville over the weekend to set up a rematch to see what Michigan institution will reign supreme in volleyball this year, as the two teams have split their matches this year. What might be even more improbable than their matchup Friday is the fact that MSU swept Michigan in Ann Arbor, only to have the Wolverines come right back and sweep the Spartans at Jenison Field House.
Needless to say, George is looking forward to part three of this season’s hard-fought trilogy.
“(The match will be) interesting, because we are split,” George said. “We’re going to be both well prepared, so it’s going to be a battle.”
One major difference in this match will be that the game will be played outside of Michigan. As a matter of fact, it will be played three time zones west, as the match will take place in Berkley, Calif. Despite the inconvenience of the long travel, George said that the excitement of the tournament is worth the lengthy trip.
And if the Spartans can produce a pair of wins this weekend, they will be looking dead in the eye of a national title, which George sees as a clear possibility due to their experience against tough opponents.
“When you play in the Big Ten, you always know it’s a possibility, because those are the best teams in the nation,” George said. “We believe in the team and that when we play together, we can upset big teams.”