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Volleyball prepared for loaded conference schedule

September 23, 2010

Senior defensive specialist Allyson Karaba digs for the ball on Sept. 10 in MSU’s game against Clemson during the Spartan Invitational. The Spartans beat Clemson, 3-0.

Photo by Josh Radtke | The State News

Following a nonconference season in which the MSU volleyball team faced several tough opponents, the Spartans will have to use that experience as they begin Big Ten play in one of the nation’s top volleyball conferences.

The Spartans (8-3) will take on No. 14 Minnesota (10-2) on Friday and then continue with Iowa (5-4) the following day.

“We’ve had some pretty good experience playing (No. 6) USC and (No. 5) Hawaii,” junior defensive specialist Carli Weiler said.

“Being a junior and having several upperclassmen returning, I think we know what
to expect.”

Both matches will begin at 7 p.m. at Breslin Center instead of MSU’s usual hosting location at Jenison Field House.

“Minnesota has been a quality program year in and year out,” head coach Cathy
George said.

“They’re currently ranked 14th, and they’re a solid volleyball program. You have to play well to beat them. They always have a great blocking team and a defensive team, but the physicality is outstanding.”

After playing what likely will be a tough test against the Gophers, the Spartans will turn their attention to a weaker Iowa team.

“Iowa (5-4) is a little bit younger this year but they’re always a great defensive team, and they’re always tough to beat,” George said.

“They balance their attack, and they keep the ball on a lot of different people, so we’re going to have to keep our blocking balanced and be ready to play tough team defense.”

Last year, the Spartans lost 3-2 both times they played the Golden Gophers, who made a Final Four appearance in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Minnesota leads the all-time
series 43-16.

MSU split the two matches they had with Iowa last season with 3-0 scores for both games. They lead the Hawkeyes 34-24 in the all-time series.

“I think that we’re going to be very prepared coming into this weekend,” junior setter Natalie Emro said.

“We have been working a lot as a team with communicating and ball control for the past couple of days, and that’s really just helping us eliminate some of our flaws.”

Overall, the Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the nation and had six teams — MSU, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Penn State — play in the NCAA Tournament last year. In addition to Minnesota, No. 2 Penn State, No. 9 Illinois and No. 22 U-M are ranked in the top 25.

“Probably most of them will get ranked in the top 20,” George said. “There are 315 teams; of that, typically half of (the Big Ten teams) are in the top 25 and most of them in the top 40. So when you have that kind of competitive level, every night is a battle.”

Penn State (10-1) made the NCAA Tournament history last season as the first team to win three straight NCAA championships. Until their 3-0 loss to then-No. 2 Stanford on Sept. 11, the Nittany Lions were on a 109-match winning streak which dated back to September 2007 — when they fell to the Cardinal.

Despite appearing in the NCAA Tournament last season, the Spartans finished their conference play ranked 10th with a 5-15 record. They said their team not only has demonstrated growth and maturity from last year, but also since the beginning of the season, and hopes their Big Ten record
will improve.

“We want to have a great year and make an impact in the Big Ten, so we want to position ourselves each day to do that,” George said. “It’s a tough league.”

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