As the No. 18 MSU volleyball team travels to Chicago this weekend and looks to improve on its 6-0 start, it can draw on experiences from last season as a guide.
Last year, the Spartans rattled off 10 straight wins after getting swept in its opening tournament to boast a 10-3 record early in Big Ten play.
But quality competition and up-and-down play caused the team to go 5-13 the rest of the way and finish below .500.
This year, head coach Cathy George is hoping to see more consistency out of her team.
“What we’re looking for is not necessarily a rhythm of wins as much as it is a rhythm of our level of play,” George said. “As the season wore on last year, we had some ups and downs in our levels and we’d like to be able to see ourselves maintain consistency in our levels at all times.”
The Spartans have outperformed their national expectations thus far, climbing up to No. 18 in the polls after beginning the season unranked. They’ve started 6-0 for the first time since 2006, and if they win their first two games this weekend, will have their best start since 1976.
Despite the many positive signs, MSU is just trying to focus in on the particular aspects of its game that need improvement.
“Just getting a rhythm with our sets and our footwork and our hitting — that’s what we hope to get better at this weekend,” junior Megan Schatzle said.
Schatzle has been placed on the all-tournament teams each of the past two weekends and is the only Spartan to receive such honors. Standing 6-foot-2, she has been a force around the net, placing in the top three in kills in each of the team’s three MSU Invitational games.
The Spartans open UIC Invitational play with a match against Duquesne on Friday at 6 p.m., then return to action Saturday at noon against Georgia State, concluding action Saturday at 7 p.m. against host UIC.
MSU did not face any of this weekend’s opponents last season but should receive good challenges and different looks from its competitors. Like MSU, Georgia State and Duquesne each have six wins.
“It’s typical in the preseason to be playing different teams, and it gives us a chance to see different styles and be able to answer against all styles,” George said. “It gives us an opportunity to make sure we’re ready to adapt and adjust to whatever comes our way.”
The Spartans open Big Ten play Sept. 25 at Purdue, but they don’t return home from a long road trip until Oct. 2 for a match against Illinois.
“We want to make sure that systematically we are putting things together to be prepared for the Big Ten season,” George said. “It’s a process that we’re going through and one in which we hope to improve each week to make sure we’re strong in all our areas going into the Big Ten season.”
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