Saturday, December 4, 2021

Spikers defeat Purdue, lose to Illinois

November 6, 2000
Freshman outside hitter Amy Sibbernsen bumps the ball overhead as her teammate, senior outside hitter Sarah Gustin looks on. Illinois beat the Spartans 15-12 in game five of their match Friday. —

The MSU volleyball team continues to struggle in the Big Ten.

The No. 22 Spartans split their weekend matches, losing to Illinois (6-15, 15-4, 12-15, 15-1, 12-15) on Friday, then rebounding to beat Purdue (15-6, 10-15, 15-5, 15-6) on Saturday.

Through 14 Big Ten games the Spartans (14-9, 7-7 Big Ten) are still in sixth place.

Last week MSU head coach Chuck Erbe said the Spartans can’t fall out of the top six and still make the NCAA tournament.

He said the loss to Illinois just makes that goal harder as the Spartans have a tough schedule remaining.

Of MSU’s remaining six matches, three teams are ranked in the top 25 (No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 7 Minnesota, No. 13 Ohio State) and four have already beaten the Spartans once (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Iowa).

Erbe said the Spartans’ problems can be summed up in one word.

“Inconsistency,” he said. “The thing, as a coach, that I’m always striving for is a consistent performance from the athletes, and it’s not based on the opponent.”

Erbe said the Spartans have been unable to put together a string of games without making mental mistakes all season.

Against Illinois it was again mental mistakes, namely 22 serving errors, that cost the Spartans the match.

“When you look at the stats and see 22 serving errors something has to be done,” he said. “When you outhit a team 32 percent to 17 percent, you outblock them, outdig them and you lose the match you better make some changes.”

In the games MSU won, it won big (15-4, 15-1), but the Spartans failed to win back-to-back games. Game four’s victory was only the 26th 15-1 win in MSU history, yet the Spartans failed to maintain that level of play.

Afterward, Erbe and the Spartan players had no solutions.

“I don’t really know how to explain it,” said senior outside hitter Sarah Gustin. “I really don’t know what happened.”

In her return from a foot sprain, Gustin tallied a team high 39 kills and 21 digs for the weekend. She sat out the last two weekends, but that wasn’t noticeable in the box scores.

Despite the numbers, Gustin said she did notice areas in her game where the missed time hurt.

“My body feels fine,” she said. “But, as far as not touching a ball goes, I feel that. My timing with the ball is a little off.”

Against Purdue, changes were made as MSU defeated the Boilermakers in four games. However, Erbe and the Spartan players admit it was a match that should have been won in three games.

“I definitely think we could have done it in three,” said sophomore middle Angela Morley. “We just had a mental lapse in game two.

“We’ve had the same problems all season. We come out and play awesome in the first game. Then we come out weak in the second game. I think it’s just all mental.”

The Spartans don’t have much time to regroup as they must prepare for Wednesday’s rematch against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Erbe said MSU will practice hard today and Tuesday.

“We’re going to have a solid week of practice,” he said. “What I want to see, as a coach, is a reflection of that on match day.”

Erbe said an area of concern is MSU’s left-side blocking. He said the Spartans had little trouble against the Boilermakers, but the quality of players they will face down the stretch is much higher.

Erbe said Illinois’ Betsy Spicer, who had 18 kills on .438 hitting Friday, is the caliber player MSU is going to see from now on.

“Those are the kinds of players we’re going to see at Michigan, those are the kind of players we’re going to see against Ohio State and those are the kind of players we’re going to see on the other teams we have to beat to put ourselves in the NCAA tournament,” he said.

“Every single team is going to attack our left-side hitters until we start blocking balls.”

Erbe said the coaching staff will do everything it can to have MSU prepared to play Wednesday. He said it’s the players’ responsibility to come to practice and matches in the right mind-set, adding the coaches can only prepare the players.

“When you’re focused and you’re mentally prepared to play, you play better,” he said. “That’s the responsibility of every player, to come ready to play.”

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