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Spartans hit road for 2 Big Ten games

November 22, 2002

The Spartans are expected to pick up their first two-win weekend since Oct. 25-26, the last time they played Purdue and Illinois, but they know the task won't be an easy one.

MSU has struggled on the road all season long, especially in the Big Ten. The Spartans have compiled a 2-6 mark in conference play outside of Jenison Field House and sophomore outside hitter Diana Steplyk and the rest of the team are boggled as to why.

"I really don't understand. We go into every game thinking its our home court and they have to take the game away from us," she said. "But we've just had a difficult time with that this year.

"But with the urgency we have right now, we're just gonna compete, play hard and hopefully come out with two victories on the road."

And making matters worse for MSU (16-10 overall, 8-8 Big Ten), the team will be without senior Kyla Smith who has developed bone chips in her elbow. The outside hitter averages more than three kills per contest and is second on the team in digs with 222 on the year.

But the Spartans know they have to fight through the injuries in order to pick up a pair of wins, but more importantly, keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

"Things happen, injuries happen," Steplyk said.

"And especially now with our senior captain out, well she acts like a captain, everybody is going to have to make up for her absence."

The first contest is against a scrappy Illinois squad at 7 p.m. Friday night in Champaign, Ill.

Illinois comes into the match sitting ninth in the conference. With its 11-14 overall record and a 5-11 mark in conference play, the Fighting Illini don't have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Regardless, junior middle Jenny Rood said she expects Illinois to bring it Friday night.

"They have absolutely nothing to lose and it's going to be a battle," Rood said.

MSU experienced the Fighting Illini's fearless attitude when the teams met earlier this season. The Spartans picked up the victory in a hard-fought five-game thriller.

The match went into extra points in the first game (a 40-38 Illini win) and then again in the fifth and deciding contest. The Spartans eked out the 16-14 win in the final game by scoring the last three points.

"I'm not so much concerned with the team on the other side of the court because if we play well, we're going to do well," Rood said.

The following afternoon, the Spartans head to West Lafayette, Ind., for a noon battle with Purdue.

Compared to Illinois, Purdue doesn't provide much of a challenge for MSU. The Boilermakers (11-18, 1-15) started the year 10-3 before fluttering down in the standings when the Big Ten season began. Their only conference win this year is against Iowa, the conference's 10th place team.

Nevertheless, the Spartans know they can't take either team lightly, especially Purdue and head coach Chuck Erbe said he has been stressing that to his players all week.

"Every single victory that Purdue can manage is a huge plus with all the young players that they've got," Erbe said. "We're the ones that are still playing for something and we're going to have to play like that.

"It's going to be a real crucial match."

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