After two road losses last weekend, the MSU volleyball team hoped to bounce back this weekend at home, where it was 5-0 and had defeated two Top 20 teams this season.
Instead, the Spartans fell twice in tough challenges from Ohio State and No. 1 Penn State to fall to 2-6 in the Big Ten and 14-6 overall.
The Spartans were competitive against Ohio State, losing 3-1 but keeping all three of its set losses within four points. Against Penn State, MSU fell 3-0 but gave the two-time defending national champion Nittany Lions a test in the second set.
“We had our moments where we definitely fought hard and we controlled some of the things they do very well,” head coach Cathy George said after the loss. “Then there were moments where they showed why they’re the No. 1 team in the nation.”
The Spartans got off to a strong start in the opening set against Penn State, but a 9-6 Nittany Lions advantage quickly became a 17-6 lead as the visitors turned in near-flawless play to win the first set.
MSU arguably played its best volleyball of the weekend in the second set, taking a 10-7 lead highlighted by solid play around the net and a few sprawling defensive efforts. But Penn State, which has won 84 straight matches, made another run and held off the Spartans late for a 25-18 victory.
The Nittany Lions, boosted by the play of their blockers and dynamic team defense, won the final set 25-12. MSU was led by sophomore outside hitter Becca Zlabis’ six kills and six digs and sophomore setter Natalie Emro’s 26 assists.
“We worked a lot this week on aggressive play and our outside hitters were going for it tonight,” junior libero Allyson Karaba said. “We were just as physical as they were, and we were just as aggressive, but we had just a few too many errors.”
MSU opened Friday’s match against Ohio State with a close loss in the first set, then battled the Buckeyes right to the finish in the second set, which Ohio State won 27-25. The Spartans rebounded with an impressive victory in the next set, but fell short again in the final frame. Zlabis had 12 kills and 16 digs to lead the way for MSU.
Although the Spartans have lost four straight matches, the players said they can take some positives from the losses.
“We really improved our passing this weekend, and our backline did a really good job with that,” senior middle blocker Vanessa King said. “(Friday) night, we improved a lot on blocking and that’s what we’ve been doing all week.”
The Spartans have a few days to regroup before Wednesday’s home match against No. 11 Michigan and Friday’s road trip to No. 6 Minnesota. Wednesday’s game is set for 7 p.m. at Breslin Center and, because the Spartans have played all their previous games during the weekend, will create a change in the normal routine of preparation.
“It’s a change for U-M, too,” George said. “If they can deal with it, we can deal with it. I think any time you’re playing an in-state rival, you get up for the match.”
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