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MSU finishes Big Ten schedule against top teams

November 16, 2009

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jenilee Rathje cheers in the Spartans’ 3-0 win against Purdue on Saturday at Jenison Field House.

Photo by Angeli Wright | The State News

Hoping to improve its final standing in the Big Ten, the MSU volleyball team embarks on an important four-game stretch to close out the regular season, beginning with a match Wednesday at No. 14 Michigan.

After the Spartans split their two home weekend games against Indiana and Purdue last weekend, they will try to put together a string of victories in the next two weeks to better their positioning to receive a postseason tournament bid.

“We’re just going in fighting and trying to make a case to get a bid to the tournament,” senior middle blocker Mischelle Nelson said. “I think aggressive serving is really going to help us, just to make blocking a lot easier.”

Although MSU has a real opportunity to climb in the standings, the Spartans’ four remaining regular season matches are against teams that occupy four of the top five spots in the Big Ten and sport a combined 47-17 conference record.

Although MSU enters with a 5-11 Big Ten record, it can take pride in the fact that it’s played well against tough competition during the season and is coming off one of its best Big Ten performances, a 3-0 victory Saturday against Purdue.

The quick turnaround from Saturday’s victory to Wednesday’s road game against Michigan shouldn’t have a major impact on the way the team performs in the match, head coach Cathy George said.

“It’s a tough game, and it’s always fun volleyball (against Michigan) and we’re looking forward to it,” George said. “It’s a matter of getting out there and challenging Michigan and doing a nice job of stopping some of the things that they do well.”

By jumping out to early set leads and winning key points throughout the match, the Spartans kept the pressure on Purdue and didn’t give the Boilermakers many chances to climb into last weekend’s match.

Players said a similar effort during the next few matches greatly adds to their chances.

“Against Purdue, we just kept going at it, and we didn’t let them back in,” senior middle blocker Vanessa King said. “I think that has to be our mindset throughout these last two weeks.”

King led the team with 10 kills and a .571 hitting percentage in Saturday’s victory.

Michigan edged the Spartans 3-0 last month at Breslin Center and, although the match lasted only three sets, each went down to the final points and was a lot closer than the score would indicate.

Wednesday’s match is set for 6 p.m. on Big Ten Network.

MSU returns home Saturday for an 8 p.m. match against No. 12 Minnesota. The Spartans battled the Golden Gophers to a 3-2 loss on Oct. 23.

The Spartans can take hope from the fact that the Gophers are ranked No. 12, and MSU has beaten two teams at home this season that were ranked No. 12 coming in.

MSU battled past Southern Cal in its first match of the season to down the then-No. 12 Trojans, then surged past an Illinois team that carried the same rank Oct. 2.

Saturday’s match likely also will be the final home game for King and Nelson, the Spartans’ two seniors.

“I’ve been through a lot here, and it’s hard to believe that it’ll be my last game,” Nelson said. “I just hope that all my team just brings some fire and some energy and we really need to wrap up as many wins as we can.”

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