At the halfway point of the Big Ten season, the MSU volleyball team has assessed its strengths to continue capitalizing on and has assessed the weaknesses holding the team back from a more successful conference journey.
Junior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje said said this evaluation of ups and downs has shown the Spartans (11-10 overall, 3-7 Big Ten) what they need to do in the second half of the conference season to be a more dominating force against talented opponents.
“It’s a combination of high and low points with how close we’ve been in so many of the matches, and some of them just haven’t turned out in our favor,” Rathje said. “On the flip side though, I think that, although it’s disappointing that we didn’t come out with a W in those games, it’s encouraging that we were so close.”
Among the details that need to be tweaked, the Spartans need to be more aggressive communicating and having accountability,” Rathje said. The lack of aggression was evident in the team’s 3-2 loss to Indiana on Saturday, she said.
To improve communication and accountability, players said regardless of the drill in practice, each element can be rehearsed and applied to every situation.
“(The Indiana match) was a clear example of how indecision and tentativeness kind of cost us the game at times,” Rathje said.
Head coach Cathy George agreed the team needs to focus on improving in those areas. If they improve, it will provide the players with an opportunity to close out the big matches, especially with three of their next six matches being against ranked teams.
“We’ve got to definitely get over the hump right there and take care of those moments and really put ourselves in situations where we can handle that a little bit better and get them in four,” George said. “(We need to) get them in that time period and try to do as much as we can to simulate that in practice.”
Serving as the backbone of the team, the setters provide the pace for each match and put the hitters in various positions to maximize their kills, while taking advantage of the blockers’ weaknesses, players said.
“They’re the core of our team,” junior outside hitter Kyndra Abron said. “They have to run a full offense … so if they’re struggling, we’re struggling; if they’re doing well, we’re doing well.”
MSU’s outside hitters agreed that they wouldn’t be as successful without such talented players supporting them. Rathje said the setters evenly distribute the ball to create openings for the attack.
“They do a good job of evaluating the other team and seeing where the weaknesses are for them and creating either one-on-ones or overloading one side to create an opening for another hitter,” she said.
“I think they’re good leaders out there too. They keep us all focused and on task.”
Junior setter Natalie Emro said she and freshman setter Kristen Kelsay have improved their chemistry with the hitters, allowing everyone to read the play better.
“We help put them in situations where we know they can get a kill, such as putting them in a one-on-one or giving them an advantage over a smaller blocker,” Emro said.
With Abron standing out nailing 22 kills against Indiana, senior outside hitter Megan Schatzle said the setters’ assists demonstrate how successful they are at giving the ball to a hitter that’s hot and not moving away from her.
“They just kept setting her the ball, and it was working,” Schatzle said. “I think they’re doing a really good job of not being too predictable.”
As the Spartans have had a couple weeks to adjust to their positions after recovering from injuries, George said her team’s potential is growing.
“We’re playing some really good volleyball, and I feel like we’re on the verge of really turning that corner to be the team that we know we can be,” she said.
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