Sunday, April 14, 2024

Team caps off regular season

November 27, 2002
Sophomore outside hitter Michelle Kopka spikes the ball over a Michigan player on Oct. 9 in Cliff Keen Arena in Ann Arbor. The Spartans compete against Northwestern and Wisconsin this weekend at Jenison Field House. —

The Spartans hold their destiny in the palm of their hands.

After picking up two emphatic victories last weekend, the MSU volleyball team has two games left on its schedule. And with a 18-10 overall mark, 10-8 in conference play, the Spartans know they need one victory, if not two, to get a NCAA Tournament berth.

"This is a fresh start, a new beginning," senior middle Angela Morley said.

"We're 0-0 right now, and we're in control whether we go 2-0 or not."

MSU's road starts with Northwestern (17-13, 10-8) on Friday night. The Spartans are tied with the Wildcats for fifth place in the Big Ten. And this Wildcat team has puzzled MSU head coach Chuck Erbe all season.

Last week, Northwestern lost in five games to Wisconsin after leading 2-0. Then Saturday night, they beat a then-No. 17 Penn State team that defeated Wisconsin the day before.

"That's something I just can't figure out," Erbe said. "Northwestern is having the best season I can remember in the 10 years I've been at Michigan State."

The Spartans defeated Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., earlier this season. At the time, the Wildcats were one of the hottest teams in the conference with a 5-2 mark.

MSU took down Northwestern in four games 30-26, 29-31, 30-19 and 30-17. That win was the 15th victory in 16 matches for the Spartans over the Wildcats.

But after their match with a scrappy Northwestern team, MSU runs into the weekend's bigger challenge - No. 15 Wisconsin (21-8, 12-6). The Spartans have dropped six straight and eight of the last nine contests to Wisconsin.

Earlier this year, the Badgers defeated the Spartans in four games, 30-25, 33-35, 30-23 and 30-25.

Regardless, Erbe said he only has one match in his mind.

"We finish our season with Wisconsin Saturday night, but to be honest with you, the only match I'm thinking about is Friday night," Erbe said.

But the Spartans may be without one of their biggest offensive weapons again. Senior Kyla Smith missed both matches last weekend and is still listed as day-to-day. The outside hitter is still feeling pain from bone chips in her right elbow, and Erbe said she'd be a game-time decision for Friday's match.

"No matter whose on the court, I know we can get it done," senior defensive specialist Emily Engel said. "I know Kyla's a big part of our game, but we've done it all season.

"It's proof everyone on our team is a good player and we can win."


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