Heading into its final weekend of Big Ten play, the MSU volleyball team is expecting grind-it-out, physical contests in its last two games.
The Spartans hope to improve their 5-13 conference mark and match the intensity of No. 1 Penn State and Ohio State while finishing the season on a strong note.
Devastating five-set losses against top 15 opponents the past two matches have made for a difficult stretch, but the Spartans still possess an opportunity to rise up in the conference standings and make a last splash before the regular season concludes.
“The one thing we’re going to do is to take each day to try and get better, and take what we’ve learned from the season and apply it to this weekend,” sophomore defensive specialist Carli Weiler said. “We’ve been improving even though the past couple games have been losses, and we’ve taken the top-tier teams to five matches.”
After a 12-0 nonconference start, the Spartans appeared destined for a strong Big Ten run, but they’ve been challenged by a tough Big Ten slate and have struggled to find consistency.
“We’re a little surprised,” sophomore middle blocker Kyndra Abron said. “We expected a little more out of ourselves, and we definitely could have done a lot of things better, but that goes with the experience and the maturity thing.”
The Spartans feature 10 freshmen and sophomores, and many of them see significant playing time.
“We’ve got to cut down on the unforced errors,” head coach Cathy George said. “We can’t give teams 10 or 11 points and expect that we are going to come away victorious … every team picks apart whatever weaknesses that the other team has, and it’s a game of inches when you’re playing in this type of a league.”
Defending national champion Penn State enters with a 30-0 record and defeated MSU 3-0 on Oct. 17. Ohio State knocked off the Spartans 3-1 on Oct. 16 and enters with a 10-8 conference mark.
MSU will try to counter forceful play around the net and offensive attacking with a solid net presence and support from its back row.
“We need to serve tough to try and take them out of their offenses and just do our best to play good defense,” Weiler said.
MSU could climb in the conference standings this weekend, but the focus is giving a strong effort and minimizing errors.
The Spartans’ last three losses have gone down to the fifth set. Although MSU was 9-0 on the road during the nonconference stretch, the Spartans haven’t won a road game yet during conference play and would like to collect one before Big Ten action concludes.
“The teams from top to bottom are so evenly matched really that it will be those unforced errors that make the difference in a game,” George said. “We need to be a little bit sharper in what we do and continue to improve in our ball control and our ability to make things better in scramble situations.”
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