After two narrow victories in the opening two sets, the MSU volleyball team stormed out after the intermission and dominated on the court in the third set to secure a 3-0 win over No. 20 Northwestern on Saturday at Jenison Field House.
“I really felt that this was a total team effort,” head coach Cathy George said. “At different times, different people had to step up in order to make us hard to play against. I think everybody did that, so really, I thought this was a team win.”
Senior outside hitter Megan Schatzle and junior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje powered the Spartans’ (11-8 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) attack with 10 kills each, while the team as a whole was hitting at 26.7 percent against Northwestern’s strong middle blockers.
“They have incredible middles, and really, they weren’t able to get in sync as much as they wanted to (against us),” George said.
Getting their hitters in position to put the ball down, junior setter Natalie Emro and freshman setter Kristen Kelsay put up 21 and 20 assists, respectively.
“They started off committing to me, so I was able to open that for the rest of my teammates just by being a decoy,” Rathje said. “Then after they started being on fire, Northwestern started going one-on-one with all of us, so it actually worked out pretty well.”
MSU and the Wildcats (15-4, 5-3) kept the score close in the beginning of the match, but the Spartans held on tight to their lead in the first set. Schatzle nailed the ball to Northwestern’s court to take the game 25-21.
In the second set, the Spartans quickly fell to a 6-2 deficit as they tried to get the lead back. Eventually tied at 23, the teams rallied back and forth before MSU won the set 26-24 on a Wildcat ball handling error.
Determined to keep improving their Big Ten record, the Spartans opened the third firing away and jumped to a 6-0 lead.
“(We were) really distributing the ball and getting some balance on that,” George said. “I think we did a nice job of serving. We were very aggressive at the line and got them out of system.”
With the attackers leading the way in the first two sets, it was MSU’s defense that held on to the third.
“We didn’t hit as well,” George said. “But I thought we were pretty attentive in terms of our service game and outblocking and really actually had more blocks in game three than we did in any other game.”
Leading the Spartan defense was junior outside hitter Becca Zlabis with 14 digs, and senior libero Allyson Karaba added 11. The team also had six blocks, compared to Northwestern’s three.
“We all came in very focused and very determined in this game,” Karaba said. “I think that attitude carried through the team and the whole night, so that was really exciting.”
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