Spartans following similar path as 2007 team

The 2007 MSU volleyball team went largely unnoticed throughout the regular season.

Ignored by the coaches poll, the Spartans quietly accumulated a 19-13 regular season record (10-10 Big Ten), earning an NCAA Tournament berth behind the leadership of two senior outside hitters, Katie Johnson and Ashley Schatzle.

Both girls racked up more than 500 kills that year while Schatzle earned All-American honors and Johnson was in the discussion. But the Spartans also received help from a promising young freshman, then-middle blocker Jenilee Rathje.

The team swept Indiana during the regular season, beat only one ranked opponent and eventually advanced to the Sweet 16. The season ended there, as the Spartans fell to No. 2 Nebraska, 3-2.

Today, the 2011 MSU volleyball team is going largely unnoticed. The Spartans quietly have accumulated a 17-7 record overall (6-6 Big Ten) behind the leadership of two senior outside hitters, Rathje and Kyndra Abron.

Both girls are potential all-American candidates who, at 379 and 291 kills respectively, are on track to tally more than 500 kills this season. The Spartans also are seeing production from Kori Moster, a promising young freshman libero.

Last week, the team completed a season sweep of Indiana for the first time since 2007 and beat its first ranked opponent this season, No. 21 Michigan, on Oct. 19. MSU also came close to beating a couple other ranked opponents, including a tough 3-2 set loss to then-No. 7, now No. 2 Nebraska.

Going into the final leg of the Big Ten season, the Spartans are poised for another tournament appearance, and head coach Cathy George sees some resemblances between this year’s squad and the last Spartan volleyball team to play in the Sweet 16.

“(2007) was a senior-laden team with a couple heavy hitters and great defense. So yeah, there’s a lot of similarities that way,” she said. “(But) we really have that last four weeks to contend and see what makes this team special and different.”

Assistant coach Russ Carney said he sees even more potential in this year’s Spartans than he saw in the 2007 team, specifically in the team’s setting. He said with more experience and better setting, the team has a strong chance to go even further than 2007.

George said she would be pleased to see the same kind of success from her team this year but also would like to see her team go beyond what they accomplished four years ago.

Meanwhile, Rathje said she definitely would like more out of this team. Having played with the 2007 squad, Rathje definitely sees some similarities between herself and Abron and the two seniors who led the team in 2007.

“Cathy’s talked about it since the beginning of the year that the two of us are similar to (Johnson) and (Schatzle),” she said.

Rathje added she didn’t mind the comparison.

“Knowing how they led us to the sweet 16, and I think we have better supporting roles around us this year,” Rathje said. “So, it’s pretty cool to think how far we can get this year.”

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