Wednesday, January 19, 2022

MSU Classic opens season, young team shaking nerves in tourney

August 31, 2001
Freshmen outside hitters Diana Steplyk (1) and Brooke Langston attempt to block a ball at the Green and White Exhibition match earlier this season. —

A bundle of nerves.

Spartan volleyball coach Chuck Erbe knows his team will be battling its emotions as well as Auburn, Dayton, Denver and Western Michigan this weekend.

Those teams and the Spartans will meet in the round-robin format of the MSU Volleyball Classic on Friday and Saturday at Jenison Field House.

The players’ emotions are expected to play a factor during the first weekend of competition for the young Spartan team, Erbe said.

“I expect there to be some nerves, some anxiety and some excitement,” Erbe said. “We just have to do a good job handling those emotions.”

The Spartans first face Auburn at 10 a.m. and Dayton at 8 p.m. today. The team squares off with Denver at 1 p.m. and Western Michigan at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Senior Erin Hartley, junior Kyla Smith and freshman Michelle Kopka will start as hitters; sophomore Nikki Colson will set; sophomore Jenny Rood and senior Angela Morely will start at middle blockers; and senior Lisa Ashton and junior Emily Engel will start in the backcourt, Erbe said.

With the new rally-scoring system, where teams can earn points on side-outs as well as serves, players are forced to minimize errors. That kind of play earned Kopka her starting role, he said.

“Kopka is very low-error,” Erbe said. “She is a very cerebral player, and she is always focused in the moment on the floor.”

Last year the Spartans won the tournament and as defending champs, know the other teams will be gunning for them, Smith said.

“We have to respect our opponents,” she said. “We’re a Big Ten team, so it’s a challenge for the other teams to come up here and beat us, so they can say ‘we beat Michigan State.’”

But in the players’ eyes, that won’t happen.

Ashton, who is recovering from a back injury, expects to open the season strong against these tough teams.

“Dayton has some great athletes coming here,” Ashton said. “They’re going to be a very respectable team, Western too. We have to respect every team we play in this tournament.”

She believes, however, the team is prepared and ready for what is in front of them.

“We’ve had some great practices that were very intense,” she said. “And this team’s attitude is the best it’s been since I have been here.”

To win this weekend, the Spartans have to respond to the different styles of volleyball they’ll face, Ashton said.

“These teams are going to come in and do some types of ball playing we’re not used to seeing in the Big Ten,” she said. “So we’re going to have to be able to adjust to that and be able to manage it.”

The Spartans will likely have to do this without much help from freshman outside hitter Kim Schram, who is battling a bacterial virus and exhaustion. Schram also missed the Green and White game Saturday because she was playing in the Canada Games, Erbe said.

“We’re going to spot-play Kim,” Erbe said. “I don’t expect Kim Schram to play a significant role this weekend.”

While his players prepare physically and emotionally, Erbe is not as relaxed as one would think a 30-year veteran coach would be.

“I’m ready to go, I’m ready to see them play,” he said. “I am anxious to see how they are going to focus in competition, because usually you bring the level of your game up in competition.

“Let’s just do something for real.”


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