The MSU volleyball team started its season off on the right foot, winning all three of its games in Orlando, Fla., and bringing home the UCF Classic title last weekend.
The Spartans topped North Florida, UCF and South Alabama in three sets each, bringing their record to 3-0 on the season.
Senior Jenilee Rathje was named the tournament MVP, recording 39 kills and 22 digs throughout the course of the weekend. Seniors Natalie Emro and Carli Weiler also were named to the all-tournament team after strong performances by both, including three straight games in which Weiler recorded 16 digs or more.
Head coach Cathy George said the team was happy with its performance in the tournament but not content, noting the Spartans have room for improvement.
“We were very pleased with the effort in the first weekend,” she said.
“But we also recognize that there’s a lot of work that we have to do as the year goes on.”
George praised the defensive play but said that the whole team could benefit from some tweaking.
“There’s little details in every position,” she said.
“Whether it’s hitters making better choices on where to hit the ball, working around blockers, getting a relationship between the (players) and really coming up with that finetuning so everything is just a well oiled machine.”
Rathje said she also was pleased with the performances of her teammates, applauding the Spartans’ ability to soldier on when the going got tough.
“I thought we did a really good job of responding when things weren’t going our way,” she said.
“Last year if we started getting into a rut or things got chaotic, we would start to spaz, and we would lose that game. But I thought we did a really good job at coming back strong.”
Rathje said coming out of the gate strongly was important to the team’s future success, a sentiment that Weiler agreed with.
“It’s always a great thing to start off 3-0,” Weiler said. “It just boosts our confidence and helps us stay on track and gives us some good feeling going into the (next game).”
Although the tournament does not count in the Big Ten standings, Emro remembers last season, when one more non-conference win would have pushed the Spartans into the NCAA Tournament, saying, “Every match counts.”
The Spartans have been preparing for the upcoming Spartan Showcase, which will be hosted in the newly renovated Jenison Field House on Friday and Saturday.
“(The girls) are very urgent about being a strong team,” George said, while watching her players continue to run through drills after practice ended Monday.
“They’re doing the little things, staying after practice. I’m not telling them to do this. They’re doing this on their own. That’s a special team.”
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