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Defending champs come to E.L. this weekend

October 15, 2009

Heading into arguably the toughest three-game home stretch of the season, the MSU volleyball team has a simple policy for putting last weekend’s two losses in the past.

They’re not thinking about it.

The Spartans were swept last Friday at Wisconsin and, although they fought the Badgers to the final points in the last two sets, fell 3-0 again Sunday at Iowa.

“They’re already forgotten about,” sophomore setter Natalie Emro said. “There’s no rethinking about Iowa and Wisconsin. We’re a whole new team now.”

The Spartans have been a whole different team at home this year. Although they’ve maintained a respectable 9-4 mark on the road, the Spartans are 5-0 at home, with two of the wins coming against Top 20 opponents.

They fed off the home crowd in wins against then-No. 12 Southern Cal and No. 10 Illinois, but again will need to use every ounce of home energy in the gym as they prepare for Ohio State and No. 1 Penn State this weekend.

The Buckeyes are an athletic group off to a 14-5 start but, like MSU, is 2-4 in the Big Ten. MSU squares off with Ohio State at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“Ohio State is extremely physical and plays well above the net,” head coach Cathy George said. “It’s a great experience to go up against top competition.”

Penn State, the winner of back-to-back national championships, has absolutely terrorized opponents so far this year, dropping only two sets en route to an 18-0 start. The Nittany Lions are loaded with talent and are paced by senior outside hitter Megan Hodge’s 257 kills.

MSU’s schedule remains difficult beyond the weekend, however, as the Spartans head across the street for a match against No. 11 Michigan at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Breslin Center. The Penn State match is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Spartans are determined not to let last weekend’s losses affect a big opportunity at home to collect wins against elite teams.

“When you win, you can’t get too excited that you don’t prepare for your next opponent. And when you lose, you have to do the same,” George said.

“The Big Ten Conference is very difficult, and if you let either the win or the loss linger too long, you get sidetracked. We need to stay on task and get prepared for a very difficult weekend.”

MSU’s balance has created problems for visiting teams so far this year. The Spartans regularly have had three or four players tally double-digit kills in a match and it’s typically been different players each time.

George said she expects strong home crowd support this weekend similar to the crowds the team’s been drawing thus far.

One of the keys to the weekend will be how well the Spartans can respond to the athleticism and physicality that both teams offer.

“Our physicality is definitely an advantage for us because we work so hard in the weight room, so we should be good there,” sophomore defensive specialist Carli Weiler said. “Every practice and every game is new for us, and we always keep that in mind, so we don’t dwell too much on the past.”

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