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Volleyball team looks to end 6-game skid this weekend

October 28, 2009

New season. New identity.

That’s the MSU volleyball team’s outlook as it begins the second half of the Big Ten season this weekend at home against Iowa and Wisconsin.

The first 10 matches didn’t exactly go as the Spartans planned as they saw their 12-0 mark before the start of conference play slip to 14-8 as they struggled through tough Big Ten matches. But the second half of the season brings new life.

“We definitely want to go through this half differently than we went through the first half,” head coach Cathy George said. “Through all of the things that we either did or didn’t do, we can learn a whole bunch and we want to make sure we go about each match differently and attack the areas and prepare ourselves better for what’s to come.”

What looked like a promising start to the season for MSU has soured slightly, but players said they’re confident the team still has the ability to win big games and will just have to put it into action.

The Spartans have lost six straight games and will get a chance this weekend to play the teams that started their losing skid. MSU was swept Oct. 9 at Wisconsin, then two days later lost 3-0 at Iowa to drop its Big Ten record to 2-4.

The last four losses have been against top-notch Big Ten teams, with three of those opponents ranked in the top 15 and two in the top 10. The Spartans fell Friday to No. 7 Minnesota by a score of 3-2 and might be able to build off a showing on the road.

“We took two games from a top 10 team and we’re definitely building on those two wins,” redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jenilee Rathje said. “We have a new focus coming in. … We just have to work ourselves out of (the losing skid) and get back on track.”

MSU has been anchored by the play of sophomore outside hitter Becca Zlabis, who recorded her sixth double-double of the season in Friday’s loss. Zlabis has been strong defensively for the Spartans this season and adds a nice shot-making ability.

“She does so much on both ends of the ball,” George said. “She’s had many double digit kill numbers and it’s just a matter of coupling it with the defense. That’s really the focus that’s she’s had over the last couple of weeks.”

Iowa enters Friday’s contest with a 3-7 mark in the Big Ten, but has played well in some big games this season, including taking a set against Penn State, which has won back-to-back national championships. The match is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Jenison Field House.

The Spartans also prepare for a 6:30 p.m. Saturday match against 5-5 Wisconsin. MSU hopes to repay both teams for their 3-0 lopsided victories against MSU earlier in the season.

“We have a lot of business to take care of this weekend because they pretty much put us down when we played them,” freshman defensive specialist Cheyenne VanDerSteen said. “We’re going to be ready to play on Friday and Saturday.”

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