Volleyball beats Illini, Wildcats and little sister

1996 saw one of the greatest years in MSU volleyball history. With a 26-7 overall record and dominant 12-0 Big Ten start for a team that finished 18-2, then-head coach Chuck Erbe took his team to an Elite Eight finish.

It’s impossible to predict where the 2013 volleyball team will finish. But in a season where success will be judged by an extended tournament run, the Spartans have so far put themselves in position to match 1996’s year.

With weekend sweeps over Illinois and Northwestern, the No. 9 volleyball team (15-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) is off to its best season start since Erbe’s team.

The Spartans have now won 13 straight matches. MSU and No. 10 Nebraska are the only teams who remain undefeated in Big Ten play. Fittingly, the two teams will face each other on Saturday.

Mindful of the promising start, head coach Cathy George said the team is taking the season one game at a time.

“It’s a long, long, long season,” she said. “It’s just such a difficult conference from time to time. So we just stay right there and not even worry about end of the season goals.”

MSU beat Illinois on Friday in straight sets, 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-17).

It was a battle marked by sibling rivalry as senior setter Kristen Kelsay faced her sister, Illinois freshman setter/defensive specialist McKenna Kelsay.

It was an emotional night for Kristen, who hadn’t seen her younger sister since leaving for preseason play in early August.

“I’m kind of speechless right now,” Kristen said after the match. “I’ve had every emotion. I knew it was going to be a cool night, then she got on the floor, and I was smiling. Then they started beating us, and I was (angry).”

Kristen had a game-high 22 assists, and McKenna had a team-high 14 assists for Illinois.

For MSU, senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski posted 17 kills, four digs and three blocks, and freshman outside hitter Reinig had 12 kills and two blocks.

MSU returned to action Saturday night to defeat Northwestern, again in straight sets (25-20, 25-12, 25-20).

Wicinski and Reinig continued their strong offensive attack. Wicinski finished with 19 kills, six digs, four service aces, and three blocks. Reinig added 11 kills, four blocks and hit at a .562 clip.

Senior middle blocker Alexis Mathews had six kills and tied a season-high with nine blocks.

With a perfect Big Ten record, Wicinski said it definitely feels good to start the season off right.

“In the Big Ten, it’s hard to get four wins in a row,” she said. “We’re going to go back to the books. We have Sunday to celebrate, we’re back to work on Monday and we have two tough opponents coming up this weekend.”

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