MSU volleyball returns home this weekend for Big Ten rematches against Illinois and Purdue.
The No. 22 Spartans (13-8, 6-6 Big Ten) are currently sixth in the conference. MSU head coach Chuck Erbe said he feels the Spartans must finish in the top six of the Big Ten to make the NCAA tournament.
Both of these matches are critical for us in terms of us putting ourselves in position to go to the NCAA tournament, he said. If we keep taking care of business well be right on track for the NCAA, so this should be a good weekend.
Erbe said he believes the Spartans are aware of this weekends significance. He said the team has a good mental framework heading into the weekend.
This weekend is again a weekend where we have to take care of business, he said. If were able to come out of this weekend 2-0 itd just be great for this team.
Beating Illinois and Purdue is something MSU has already done once this year. In September, the Spartans defeated both teams on their own court.
Like MSU, Illinois is dealing with key injuries of their own. Both of the Illinis left-side hitters suffered season-ending knee injuries, forcing Illinois to shuffle its starting lineup.
Junior outside hitter Erin Hartley said the Spartans have already proven themselves against both teams. Now, she said its just a matter of remaining focused and not looking past either opponent.
I think this is a great opportunity because we have two wins over these teams already, she said. I know theyre important matches and being at home with the home crowd should help us.
Hartley said the Spartans had a good week of high-energy practices, adding that quality practices give the team confidence heading into weekend matches. She said senior outside hitter Sarah Gustin began practicing with the team for the first time since spraining her foot Oct. 19.
Erbe said the swelling in Gustins foot is gone, but added he is hesitant to bring her back too soon. He said if Gustin doesnt return this weekend she will return to action next week.
Now its a matter of pain tolerance and hoping the swelling doesnt return, he said. We might be able to see the services of Sarah over the weekend, which would be a great boost to this team and help us a lot.
If Gustin does play, Erbe said it would be in a limited back-line role.
Im still a little hesitant until Im 100 percent, Gustin said. With a huge tape job on my ankle its hard to move. Its not exactly fun coming back after being out three to four weeks. Its possible for me to play, its just a matter of whether its the best thing for this team.
Gustin said she doesnt want to jeopardize her full recovery by returning too soon, but added if she can help the team in a limited role she will.
With the absence of Gustin and senior middle Jessica Sanborn, MSUs leaders in kills per game at the time of their injuries, the Spartans have been forced to look elsewhere for offensive firepower.
Erbe said Hartley has assumed the role of leader and taken her game to another level. He said she is playing with more emotion and without fear.
Erin Hartley has really stepped up to the plate for this team in these last four matches, he said. She has just been exceptional in all areas of the game.
The talent has always been there, its just been a matter of dealing with it. I feel like shes turning a corner in her career.
Hartley said she is becoming more confident with abilities on the court. She said she is more aware of her role on the team than ever before. She added she just tries to help MSU win any way she can.
Erbe said attitudes like Hartleys can only help.
He said the Spartans need to take each game as they come and not worry about the bigger picture.
Weve got to take care of business Friday night, and Saturday night will take care of itself, he said.