Monday, November 30, 2020

Breaking down the Big Ten: Volleyball

September 24, 2009

Record: 12-0

Key players: Junior outside hitter Megan Schatzle (146 kills), redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jenilee Rathje (123 kills)

Important Big Ten games: Penn State (Oct. 17), Michigan (Oct. 21), Minnesota (Nov. 21)

Conference outlook: The No. 16 volleyball team is off to the program’s best start since 1976 and has turned some heads across the country en route to a 12-0 nonconference opening.

Nevertheless, the Big Ten schedule will be a difficult challenge for the Spartans, who started 10-3 overall last year before finishing 15-16.

“We’re still a very young team that is learning every time out,” head coach Cathy George said. “We’re much better prepared than we were last year, but there’s much more we still have to do.”

The Spartans’ roster features 10 underclassmen, but several of them are prominent contributors this year. This year’s sophomore class saw plenty of action last season as the result of a shortage of upperclassmen on the team and should benefit from that experience.

The Spartans opened the season with an upset win against No. 13 Southern Cal, and rattled off 11 straight victories after that, with nine coming on the road.

Through four tournaments MSU has played in so far, four different Spartans have been named tournament MVPs.

Their defense is anchored by junior libero Allyson Karaba, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Offensively, MSU has several key contributors on offense and has five players boasting at least 70 kills.

“Different people have stepped up on different nights, and that’s what excites me about this team,” George said. “The balance and that different people can take over when called upon.”

Despite the strong start, MSU looks up in the polls to see four Big Ten teams ranked ahead of it, including back-to-back national champion Penn State at No. 1. MSU hosts Penn State on Oct. 17, then visits the Nittany Lions on Nov. 27.

The Spartans saw several highs and lows last year and will look to maintain consistency this season while improving on a good nonconference start. Expect them to continue to have their ups and downs against good Big Ten competition, but to emerge in excellent position for a potential postseason run.

Final standings prediction and conference record:4th place in Big Ten (13-7 record)

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