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MSU sweeps Kentucky, Dayton, moves to sweet 16

December 2, 2007

What a difference a year makes.

The conference records are identical at 10-10 and the overall records are very similar from this season to last. Only this time around, the MSU volleyball team fought its way to a spot in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament instead of falling in the first round.

This year, instead of a five-game losing effort, the Spartans swept both Kentucky and Dayton, 3-0. The team did all this without sophomore middle blocker Vanessa King, a key player in the regular season who sprained her ankle just prior to the tournament.

“We were faced with a little adversity on Thursday when Vanessa King sprained her ankle,” MSU head coach Cathy George said. “(Sophomore outside hitter) Mischelle Nelson was able to come in and do a great job.”

MSU was ranked higher than Kentucky going into the tournament, but was an underdog against No. 15 Dayton. The Flyers had only lost one game going into the match against the Spartans and had the home-court advantage.

The match was played in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,057, including a large number of vocal students, which George said provided for a great college volleyball atmosphere.

“To play them at their place I think was especially difficult, but our team was prepared to do that,” George said. “The Big Ten has prepared us for hostile environments such as Dayton, and we were exposed to high-level volleyball throughout the year and it paid off in the way we played the entire weekend.”

The team will now head to Wisconsin to play No. 2 Nebraska in the NCAA Regional Semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday.

The Cornhuskers were the 2006 NCAA Champions and have returned all of their starters, including two Players of the Year — outside hitter Christina Houghtelling and right side hitter Sarah Pavan.

“We’re just taking this one step at a time,” George said. “We are preparing for Nebraska as we speak and will be putting together a game plan here today and tomorrow and then preparing the team as the week goes on.”

This will be Nebraska’s 14th consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.

“We need to play our game and our strengths,” George said. “When we get into our flow and rhythm we become much more difficult to beat. We need to first find our flow and then be able to offset their strengths and slow things down on their side of the court.

“We need to play a totally aggressive style of volleyball, play hard defensively, play with passion and heart.”

This is only the fourth time in program history the Spartans have earned a spot in the Sweet 16, the last being in 2002 when they fell to Southern Cal, 3-0.

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