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Volleyball travels to Indiana for pair of road matches

October 21, 2010

In its first of two straight weekends of playing on the road, the MSU volleyball team said it is prepared and excited for the challenges it will face against Purdue and Indiana.

These two matches are the first of four straight road competitions.

“It’s two weekends in a row away, but everybody has to do it once in this conference at some point,” head coach Cathy George said. “This is a stretch where we have to be very focused and very aggressive.

“We have to take our game to them and continue to push our style on the opponent.”

The Spartans (11-8 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) open their weekend at 7 p.m. Friday in West Lafayette, Ind., against the Boilermakers (13-6, 4-4) and expect an aggressive offense to which they’ll have to adapt.

“They have good middles and a really active setter (in Jaclyn Hart), so there’s probably going to be some gaps in our block,” junior outside hitter Becca Zlabis said. “So we’re going to have to play defense around that.”

Hart leads her team with an average of 10.57 assists per set, compared to junior setter Natalie Emro, who leads the Spartans with a 6.55 average.

Last season, MSU split its two matches against the Boilermakers, and the team said their opponent since has improved its ball control.

“They’re a very balanced team,” George said. “They have a lot of weapons … They’re definitely an improved team and aggressive, and there isn’t just one player that you can cue in on to try to shut down.”

The Spartans haven’t had a victory against Indiana since November 2008, but they said they’re well prepared at this point in the season to break that losing streak Saturday (8 p.m., Big Ten Network).

While the team said it expects a similar level of intensity from the Hoosiers, MSU will have to battle against the wild crowd at University Gym in Bloomington, Ind.

“Their fans sit right on the court, and they’re on you the entire match,” Emro said. “That’s going to be tough to deal with, but we’re definitely (still) looking for a win.”

George cited Hoosier middle blocker Ashley Benson as a major threat and “one of the best athletes in the league.” Benson leads her team, averaging 3.47 kills per set and 1.44 blocks per set with 98 total for the season. By comparison, redshirt freshman Alexis Mathews leads MSU with 64 blocks,

“She’s so dynamic and athletic, and she’s just a force to be reckoned with,” George said. “Their team rallies around her, and she takes charge and leads that team.”

Indiana’s middle blockers are so strong and can slide down the court so well that MSU is preparing its right back defense to plan accordingly, Zlabis said. The team is aiming to keep the Hoosiers out of its system so it can break down their defense.

While the Spartans have four road matches ahead of them, the team said it’s focusing on one match at a time. Within each upcoming competition, Emro said her team will be breaking it down even further to be victorious.

“(We’re) focusing really on one point at a time,” Emro said. “Sometimes we try to take it game by game, but I think even that is too far of a stretch.

“So we try to win every five points instead of a match as a whole.”

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