The Spartan volleyball team left East Lansing on Thursday with hopes of returning with a 9-0 record and wins over Wisconsin on Friday and Northwestern on Saturday.
Twenty-eight service errors later, the Spartans (7-2, 0-2 Big Ten) found themselves on the first losing streak of the season, falling 3-1 to No. 9 Wisconsin and 3-0 to the Wildcats.
Spartan head coach Chuck Erbe said the next step for his struggling team is a crucial one.
The team is very frustrated with itself, but weve got 18 more matches to go, he said. Theyre going to have to harness their energies and move on and move forward because the matches dont get any easier.
A season-high 17 service errors against the Wildcats (5-3, 2-0) left the Spartans looking for answers for their lack of mental toughness.
You just cant give up seventeen points on your serve - thats mental, Erbe said. We get into practice and we serve well, but we come out here in competition and were anxious and apprehensive and then we start making serving errors.
Were going to have find some solutions for that.
The match was littered with mistakes the Spartans hadnt been making in previous victories. The balanced Northwestern squad took advantage of them winning 30-24, 32-30, 30-20.
Wildcat head coach Keylor Chan said his team tried to be relaxed and confident against the Spartans.
Michigan State is a quality team, we just wanted to play good volleyball, he said. And we wanted to just let the game develop at its own pace.
The Spartans timid nature coupled with solid performances from almost every Wildcat gave way to the three-game sweep.
The Spartans seriously contended for only the second game, an inconsistent Spartan push, sophomore setter Nikki Colson said.
We need to learn how to sustain a tougher mentality, she said.
And not just for a few points, but for the entire 90 points it takes to win a match.
Wildcat outside hitter Kelli Meyer thwarted MSUs attempt to set the match at one game apiece when she slapped down a kill, ending the Spartans chance to win game two.
After starting the season 7-0, the best start since 1989, MSU seems to wondering where things went wrong.
We just had a total lack of control, and were wondering whats going on, senior outside hitter Erin Hartley said. Why arent we playing like we can play?
I dont know and Im frustrated.
Those frustrations began Friday in the first game of the Wisconsin match. The Spartans had six service errors - serving the ball into the net or out of bounds, giving the Badgers those points.
And although they curbed the serving woes a little, committing only five errors the rest of the match, other areas of the game suffered and the team lost 24-30, 18-30, 30-25, 20-30.
We had enough blown assignments tonight to last about half of the Big Ten season, Erbe said. That and the serving and passing difficulties we got into - we had 12 receiving errors. You dont win a match like this with 12 receiving errors.
Outside hitter Erin Byrd led the Wisconsin (8-2, 2-0) attack with a match-high 20 kills.
Middle blocker Sherisa Livingstons added 19 kills. The Spartans got 13 kills each from junior outside hitter Kyla Smith and Hartley.
Game three of the match was the lone bright spot of the weekend.
After tying the Badgers at 25, MSU wouldnt let Wisconsin make a run and reeled off five straight points to take the game.
I think that proves that we can play with them, and we should play with them, Hartley said. But it just makes (it) more disappointing because we can pull it together and take one game from them, but we cant pull it together and take three.
The team must deal with its mental shortcomings to establish itself as one of the Big Tens elite squads, Erbe said.
Weve said all along its the neck-up stuff with this team and its the process of learning how to win, he said.
That takes a lot of hard work.