MSUs volleyball team has won all its matches this season, but the real season is about to get underway.
The Spartans (7-0) open Big Ten play at 7 p.m. today against No. 9 Wisconsin (6-2). The team caps its conference-opening weekend at 7 p.m. Saturday when it will tangle with the Northwestern Wildcats (3-3) in Evanston, Ill.
Sophomore setter Nikki Colson said the team has to be ready for an entirely different experience than it experienced in the two previous tournaments.
Starting Friday, its a whole new level of volleyball, she said. We have to be ready to step up and be prepared to play at that level.
Wisconsin looks to build on last seasons second-place finish in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers return senior Sherisa Livingston, last seasons first-team All-American middle blocker.
Livingston is second in the Big Ten in kills averaging 4.74 per game.
MSU junior middle blocker Angela Morley said containing Livingston is key.
We need to stop Sherisa Livingston, she said. We need to take her out of their offense.
But Livingston obviously isnt the only threat on a team that is rebounding from a Big Ten championship season.
Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite said opponents can expect Livingstons ability and drive throughout his team.
We have to be consistent on our side of the net, he said. I think both teams will be searching for that consistency.
And the Spartans said they realize their first Big Ten opponent is one of the most balanced teams in the conference.
You know that they have good attackers, you know they are going to play good defense and you know theyre going to pass well, said MSU head coach Chuck Erbe. And we have to do those things well.
Senior outside hitter Erin Hartley, the Spartans leader in kills and hitting percentage at .417 and 4.5, respectively, said the team needs to bring its game to a place it hasnt been this season against the Badgers.
They are extremely good, and well need to play better than we have this season if we want to leave with a win, she said. We have to be at the top of our game and be mentally prepared before the game to win.
The Badgers may also be overlooking the Spartans, a team Wisconsin beat twice last season without much drama, Hartley said.
Im sure Wisconsin thinks they can beat us, so Im hoping on sneaking up on them, she said.
Whatever the outcome tonight, the Spartans have to refocus on a Northwestern squad that split matches with the Spartans last spring.
Colson said any conference opponent can be dangerous, and Northwestern is no different
Every night in the Big Ten its always very competitive, no matter what name is across the jersey, she said.
We cant just coast through anybody, especially a team like Northwestern.
Hitting through the Wildcat blockers may not be so easy either.
The Wildcats are second in the conference in blocks, with 3.25 rejections a game.
Its pretty simple, Northwestern head coach Keylor Chan said. This early in the season all you can worry about is fundamentals - passing, serving and blocking.
Especially with the two-week layoff because of all the tragedies, I dont think anyone will be very crisp.
But if the Spartans can execute against Northwestern, they could send a message to the rest of the conference.
The match with Northwestern is really important, Colson said.
We need to come out and play well because theyre one of the teams we need to beat in the Big Ten.