Saturday, December 4, 2021

Spikers set to prepare for Wisconsin-Milwaukee

November 27, 2000
Senior middle hitter Sarah Gustin (12) crouches to bump the ball against Wisconsin. —

MSU volleyball’s season came to a disappointing finish this weekend, but the Spartans still managed to make the NCAA tournament.

MSU will travel to UCLAfor the first round of the tournament where they will face Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Spartans (17-12 overall, 10-10 Big Ten) defeated Northwestern in straight games Friday (15-3, 15-11, 15-1), but lost in straight games to No. 5 Wisconsin on Saturday (5-15, 11-15, 12-15) for their final match of the season at Jenison Field House.

Friday’s win over the Wildcats solidified the sole possession of fifth place in the Big Ten and a bid to the NCAA tournament.

“They’re going to take six or seven teams from the Big Ten,” MSU head coach Chuck Erbe said. “We’re in fifth place no if, ands or buts about it.”

Entering the weekend, sharing fifth place with Iowa was still a possibility. The Hawkeyes lost to No. 7 Minnesota on Wednesday and No. 17 Ohio State on Friday, ending their chances of any share.

MSU’s tournament hopes have teetered on the brink the last few weeks and getting the win Friday silenced any doubts.

“That weight is off our shoulders,” junior outside hitter Erin Hartley said. “I think it’s a big relief.”

Hartley led the Spartans against the Wildcats with a team high 16 kills and a team high .484 hitting percentage. She also tied for the team-high with seven blocks and added 10 digs for an all-around performance.

MSU dominated Northwestern from the start, and finished its third 15-1 game of the season. The Spartans outhit the Wildcats .383 to .147 and outblocked them 12 to three for the match.

Senior middle hitter Sarah Gustin said this season didn’t unfold the way MSU had envisioned. She said it achieved its ultimate goal in making the NCAA tournament, but added Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin left a bitter taste.

“They’re a good team and they were playing for a Big Ten championship,” she said of the Badgers. “We could have played better.”

Celebrating senior night, the Spartans opened strong with an early 4-3 lead over the Badgers, but from there it was all downhill.

Wisconsin won game one 15-5 and started off game two 6-1, capping an 18-2 Badgers run.

Gustin said the Badgers came ready to play, but added the Spartans made too many mistakes. She said Wisconsin is too good of a team to have those kinds of mental lapses.

“That’s our main opponent - ourselves,” she said. “Historically this team lets teams go on runs like that. Against teams like Northwestern and Iowa we can overcome that.”

Erbe said MSU didn’t show up until the third game against Wisconsin, adding that the game was all but wrapped up by then. He said the game should have been a spring board for the tournament but it instead served as a minor setback.

“We just had a hard time stepping up to the top level this year for whatever the reason,” he said. “We get great efforts against Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana and that’s good enough to get us to the middle of the pack. Mentally we’ve really had a barrier being competitive and beating quality opponents.”

Five Badgers combined for all of Wisconsin’s 50 kills, but 48 came from just three players - outside hitters Jenny Maastricht and Claudia Rodriquez and middle hitter Sherisa Livingston.

“They only had three hitters,” a frustrated Erbe said after Saturday’s match. “There were so many blown assignments. We couldn’t defend three hitters.”

Erbe said the good thing about sports is once a match is finished it becomes the past. He said the Spartans made the tournament and that’s all they need to worry about.

“The good news is we’re in the tournament and it’s a new season,” he said. “So maybe we can clear the cobwebs over the next five or six days and get ready to play. If each person can get a little better we just might surprise people.”

Aside from senior middle hitter Jessica Sanborn (with a broken foot), Erbe said the Spartans are healthy and ready for the tournament. He said Sanborn is still in a walking boot and any thoughts of her returning are premature.

“We’re just going to practice the way we’ve been going,” he said. “You don’t just go berserk because you made the tournament. We’ll go back to work and do the things we need to do to prepare for our next opponent.”

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