Taking advantage of its versatile depth and talent, head coach Cathy George and junior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje led the MSU volleyball team through a successful weekend. The Spartans (3-0) continued their play in the MSU Showcase prevailing over IUPUI 3-0 on Saturday and then beating Evansville later that night 3-0.
The Spartans’ three wins in their opening weekend gave them their seventh-straight Showcase title. Additional honors included Rathje, seniors libero Allyson Karaba and outside hitter Megan Schatzle being named to the All-Tournament team. Rathje also received tournament MVP honors after achieving a .424 attack percentage.
“It was a scrappy team. I think all three teams this weekend were scrappy,” Schatzle said. “The main thing was that we didn’t want to play down to their level, and I think that happened a few times.”
MSU began the first match Saturday facing more challenges than anticipated, which the Spartans attributed to a lack of focus and the unusual playing time in the middle of the day.
Despite this, the Spartans played above their obstacles, and they still came out on top of the IUPUI Jaguars (0-3), winning all three sets 25-20, 25-14 and 25-19, respectively.
Schatzle led the attack with 10 kills while junior setter Natalie Emro led the team with 17 assists, and Karaba tallied 11 digs during the afternoon match.
While George agreed that the team was off its game in the first match, she was pleased with how it recovered and stepped up the play to control the pace of the Evansville match later Saturday.
“We played well as a team tonight. Everybody did what they needed to do to bring home this championship,” George said. “We had a lot of balance in our offense; we had a lot of balance in our team playing.”
Schatzle kept her game consistently strong throughout the tournament, posting a weekend-high of 13 kills. Other major players included Emro and freshman setter Kristin Kelsay who each contributed 21 and 20 assists, respectively.
“We had an opportunity throughout the tournament to play all of our players, and we needed to use this weekend to gain experience for everybody,” George said, “So when we continue to move into the Big Ten and we continue to be challenged, we have people who are ready to play.”
The Spartans came out strong in the first set and immediately took charge. A powerful kill by Schatzle brought the score to 8-2 and ignited the crowd’s enthusiasm as well as the team’s. MSU finished the set 25-10.
“I just focus on what I need to do for the team, and that’s three-plus kills a game,” Schatzle said.
The Purple Aces (2-1) challenged the Spartans in the second set by changing up their blocking strategy, which kept the teams neck and neck. However, with the score tied at eight, Emro sent a commanding kill over the net to help the Spartans pull ahead. They finished the set at 25-16.
“We really focused on coming back this evening with a better mental attitude, and it really showed in the way we played,” Emro said.
Closing out the match for an undefeated opening weekend, MSU won the third set 25-18.
“The team chemistry tonight was very good. I thought that the defense brought together the offense,” George said. “We were playing a very scrappy Evansville team that had a lot of seniors playing together. They made us rally, and they made us work for our points, and it was a lot of fun to play in this match.”
The Spartans will travel to Honolulu on Thursday for the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic where they will play New Mexico, Hawaii and Southern California.
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