Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Womens volleyball claims championship trophy

September 2, 2001

Junior outside hitter Kyla Smith knew before Friday’s opening match of the MSU Volleyball Classic that she would have to take some pressure off senior outside hitter Erin Hartley.

Balance is must-have if the Spartans want to succeed, Smith said.

“It makes the team more even, and blockers just can’t key on one person,” she said.

And so she delivered, with 16 kills in the final match and enough consistency to earn her the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award en route to a team championship.

The Spartans (4-0) defeated Western Michigan 3-1 (29-31, 30-28, 30-19, 30-20) in Saturday night’s finale at Jenison Field House to end the tournament undefeated and claim the championship trophy.

Western, Dayton and Denver finished in a three-way tie for second with 2-2 each, and Auburn bottomed out at 0-4 in the round robin tournament.

MSU’s accomplishments over the weekend should have a lasting effect, Smith said.

“It’s a great confidence builder for me,” Smith said. “This whole weekend was a confidence boost for our entire team, knowing that when we’re down, we can come back and win any game.”

Coming back was pertinent to MSU this weekend, as they went 3-1 for the four series’ openers, and 1-3 in the second round. The team was undefeated for the series’ third and fourth games.

Smith’s 16 kills in the final match of the weekend were second only to preseason All-Big Ten first team member Hartley, who had 19. Sophomore middle blocker Jenny Rood added 11 kills in the victory.

After struggling early, head coach Chuck Erbe said the team adjusted to handled the athletic Western attack.

“They played great defense,” Erbe said of his team. “ The third and fourth games, we dominated them and shut them down offensively.”

Junior defensive specialist Emily Engel broke things open for the Spartans in games 3 and 4 against Western. Engel tied the tournament record for aces twice Saturday with seven aces against Western and against Denver in the Spartans’ 3-1 (30-23, 28-30, 30-19, 30-19) victory earlier in the day.

“The fact is Emily Engel has really developed into a force,” Erbe said.

Three players also reached double digit kills against Denver - Hartley notched 18, Smith contributed 13 and freshman outside hitter Michelle Kopka had 10. Rood and junior middle blocker Angela Morley each posted nine kills in the winning effort.

The Spartans began giving opposing defenses headaches Friday, defeating Dayton 3-1 (33-31, 27-30, 30-25, 30-23) and Auburn 3-1 (30-19, 21-30, 30-25, 30-22).

Hartley’s 19 kills paced the Spartans in the win over Dayton, followed by Smith’s 17 and Rood’s 15.

Rood can be a major factor in every game, despite her switch to the middle from outside hitter last spring, Erbe said.

“ It is really important that Jenny play a significant role in every game,” he said. “But it is a new position for Rood, and we’re asking things of her that she has just started training for. We’re going to be patient with her.”

Erbe didn’t have to be patient with Kopka. In the first game of her career Friday morning, she gave Spartan fans and coaches a glimpse of her potential.

Kopka had 10 kills in the outing, a 3-1 victory over Auburn.

The Spartans used many weapons against Auburn. Smith led with 15 kills. Rood added 11. Hartley killed 10. Engel also had five aces.

The tournament used the new-rally scoring system, which counts points off both serves and side-outs. Erbe said the fans and coaches seemed to enjoy the new method.

“I didn’t expect it to be this strong of a first tournament,” he said. “You never knew if you had a match under control until you got to thirty points.”

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