With an unusual one-match weekend on its hands, the MSU volleyball team is able to focus all of its efforts on strategies to take down No. 20 Northwestern.
While recovering from its 3-1 loss to No. 15 Michigan on Wednesday night. MSU will host the Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Jenison Field House.
Near the halfway point of the season with only conference matches left, the Spartans (10-8 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) are looking to turn their Big Ten record around to prepare for a successful postseason. The team has lost five of its last seven matches.
“The conference is extremely strong this year, and a win is important whenever you can get one,” head coach Cathy George said.
Similar to what MSU already has seen from its conference matches, it expects the Wildcats’ (15-2, 5-1) aggressive attack, which is buttressed by their dominant middle blockers’ defense.
To stand a chance at winning, the Spartans need to get their opponents out of position, which will help them break through the strong defense, junior outside hitter Becca Zlabis said.
“They definitely have strong middles,” she said. “I remember the last time we played them, their middle got a record-high kill percentage against us.
“So we really have to stop their middles, and that starts with serving tough and getting the out of system and being able to stop them.”
MSU split its two matches against the Wildcats last season, both 3-1 scores. This split has been a pattern for the last three years in this series, with MSU’s three victories taking place at Jenison Field House.
The team is hoping that home-court advantage Saturday night will help this time around as well.
The Spartans said Northwestern will offer new challenges with the additions of two first-year Wildcats: outside hitters Stephanie Holthus and Christina Kaelin.
“(Kaelin) is a transfer All-American from Notre Dame who has brought them a great deal of experience and composure,” George said. “And they have (Holthus) who was … very effective for years in junior volleyball. She’s been very good for a very long time.”
As the Spartans move toward playing at full strength with the recovery from injuries, they said they expect more strong performances through the second half of their season.
“We’re starting to get a little bit of consistency that we want to continue to build on as our players return from injury,” George said. “We’re still not all the way back, but we’re getting there.
“(We have) got to put the pieces in place.”
Senior outside hitter Megan Schatzle said that as the team moves closer to its full potential, it won’t be focusing on the losses and mistakes but instead will look to make corrections in practice and focus on improving its level of play.
She said it won’t be an easy task with the Big Ten being one of the best conferences in the nation with five teams currently ranked.
“We’re just fighting every night for a win,” Schatzle said. “Whether it’s Michigan or (Northwestern), a win is a win.”
The Spartans said they need to come out strong against the Wildcats and keep their focus on their own playing, rather than strategizing to play against their opponent’s game.
“We have that chemistry back, and I think by having that, we know what we need to do,” Zlabis said. “We know what everyone is capable of, and we have that confidence in each other.”
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