Already down 1-0 against Northwestern University on Saturday and trailing in the second set, the No. 23 MSU volleyball team didn’t want to fall too far behind and risk starting Big Ten play with a 1-3 mark.
The Spartans have stressed consistency all season and, after scoring an upset victory against No. 12 Illinois on Friday, they couldn’t afford to lose momentum and watch a home sweep opportunity go by the wayside.
The Spartans took a timeout, then responded by rallying to win the set and taking the final two to win the match 3-1.
“That’s the one thing we’ve been talking about this whole time, is once we get a big win over someone that we weren’t necessarily supposed to beat, we’ve got to come out and win the next game or else the (previous) win doesn’t count,” junior outside hitter Megan Schatzle said.
The Spartans started their fist Big Ten home stand with a close 3-2 win against the Fighting Illini, marking the second time MSU has defeated the No. 12 team at home this year.
MSU defeated Southern Cal, who carried the same rank, in the season opener before embarking on a lengthy road trip that lasted for much of September and early October.
MSU rallied from a 2-1 deficit Friday evening to defeat Illinois for its first conference victory of the year after dropping its first two Big Ten games of the league schedule.
The Spartans’ balance again was a factor, with four players tallying at least 12 kills. Senior middle blocker Mischelle Nelson led the way with 14 kills while also earning five blocks.
“I think there was room for improvement on some of the things we were doing, but we came out and showed some great maturity,” head coach Cathy George said.
“I think our team did a really nice job of sticking with it.”
The Spartans have shown they won’t be intimated by higher-ranked opponents who travel to East Lansing.
After Saturday’s victory, MSU is 5-0 at home and 14-2 overall.
Schatzle was a dynamic scoring force Saturday, powering to a career high 20 kills in just three sets, while this weekend’s return of senior middle blocker Vanessa King also proved to be a big lift for MSU.
An ankle injury held her out of the two previous matches.
King had nine kills and four blocks in Saturday’s game and helped the Spartans get back on track after dropping their first two Big Ten games last weekend.
“Obviously it was hard to sit out and watch for all of last weekend, but I think (this weekend) was really exciting for everybody,” King said.
“It’s always good to have a home crowd behind you, and I think we did a good job of putting on some good volleyball for them.”
Throughout the season, MSU has seemed to feed off the home crowd, and was aided by the home energy following four straight weekends away from home.
The Spartans will take to the road again this weekend with a Friday match at Wisconsin and a Sunday meeting at Iowa.
“It feels good to be home after four weeks on the road and to have the crowd on our side and cheering for us,” Schatzle said.
“The crowd’s been great lately compared to last year, so we’ve been recruiting a lot of people.”
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