Volleyball closing in on grueling Big Ten schedule

A No. 14 ranking certainly isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

But for volleyball head coach Cathy George, MSU’s No. 14 ranking only highlights the amount of work that needs to be done before Big Ten play begins Sept. 27. Despite the strong start, MSU (8-1 overall) is only ranked fifth in a stacked Big Ten conference as of Sept. 14.

Out of 330 Division 1 volleyball teams, eight Big Ten teams are top 25 nationally.

Because of the heavy competition, “work” is the formula George is preaching to her players as the team looks to create separation in a stacked conference.

“(When) you really work, good things happen,” George said at her weekly press conference on Tuesday. “We just have to keep our minds on that, and then after this weekend, you prepare for our first Big Ten weekend.

“It’s challenging, but it’s exciting.”

After the Spartans take on unranked Eastern Michigan, Duquesne and Cincinnati this weekend at the Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational, MSU will hit the road to face No. 1 Penn State and No. 13 Ohio State the following weekend.

George is using pre-conference play to fine-tune the team’s weaknesses. The record doesn’t show the inconsistent defensive play the team has displayed early on.

“It’s critical that we’re working on things that we can get better at and that we see the process happening,” George said. “There’s things that we take from last weekend that I’d say we have to get better at.”

The record does, however, indicate the across-the-board strong play at each position. Senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski, who is 10 kills away from hitting the 2,000-kill milestone, and senior middle blocker Alexis Mathews have led a balanced offensive attack that has seen significant contributions from junior outside hitter Taylor Galloway, freshman middle blocker Allyssah Fitterer and freshman middle blocker Autumn Christenson.

Last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and junior libero Kori Moster continues to lead a stout defense and senior setter Kristen Kelsay has continued her strong play as a floor general.

Despite the rotation not being complete with an injury to sophomore setter Halle Peterson and the absence of freshman outside hitter Chloe Reinig, who initially was slated to start at the beginning of the season before a bout with mononucleosis, the versatility of the rotation has kept the engine running hot in pre-conference play.

This weekend’s Spartan Invitational is the last tournament before Big Ten play starts. After that, the season will become much more intense.

“When you look at how to prepare for this weekend, we look at all the teams — we scouted all the teams,” George said. “But we also keep an eye on what this league will look at and what the challenges are. (We’re) shoring what’s going to apply to this weekend so that it help’s us get a jump start on what’s coming in the future.”

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