Despite winning the first two games of the Spartan Showcase with ease, the MSU volleyball team (6-0) appeared to be in trouble Saturday night against the Toledo Rockets.
After coming back from a 19-14 deficit to win the first set, 25-21, the Spartans found themselves in a similar hole in set two.
However, sparked by a timeout and subsequent kill by sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mathews, the Spartans completed their second come-from-behind victory of the night, 25-23. In the last set, the Spartans fought a back-and-forth battle with the Rockets, finally winning on a block from senior outside hitter Kyndra Abron, launching the Jenison Field House crowd onto its feet.
“It felt really good,” Abron said about the final play. “Coach told me, ‘You need to get a block right now,’ so I just went in and got a block.”
Six games into the season, the Spartans have yet to drop a set, marking the first time since the 1975 season an MSU volleyball team started the season with 18 consecutive set wins.
Senior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje also claimed her second straight tournament MVP this season after recording 47 kills on the weekend, including 14 in the final match against Toledo. Mathews and Abron also were named to the all-tournament team.
“It’s exciting (to win MVP), but at the end of the day, it’s more exciting that we’re 6-0 and we’re starting off without dropping a set,” Rathje said. “Just knowing that we’re continuing to improve is great.”
Head coach Cathy George recognized Rathje’s senior leadership as one of the key factors in the team’s two come-from-behind victories.
“She played like a senior All-American,” George said. “We needed to make senior plays. We needed to step up. And we did. I told (the girls) to weather the storm, one point at a time, and eventually we chipped back.”
Rathje said she could tell the team was looking to her for leadership in both of the comeback wins.
“Being a fifth-year senior, I knew it was crunch time,” she said.
“I had the experience, so I knew when it was time to put the ball away.”
Mathews, who recorded a team best 15 blocks throughout the course of the weekend, including a 9 block performance against St. John’s in the first game, said she focused on bringing energy to her team. Ultimately it was the team’s composure that won the final game, she said.
“A lot of these games might have gone five (sets), or we may have even lost, had we not kept our cool,” Mathews said.
On defense, senior defensive specialist Carli Weiler led the team in digs, recording 12 against the Rockets. Rathje also tallied 10 digs, chalking up her first double-double on the season.
Mathews admitted the Spartans didn’t play very well at the beginning of the match, but they had already played several games this season where they needed to stay composed to win. She said that experience really helped when the game came down to the wire.
The Spartans look to continue their winning streak at the Best Western Falcon Plaza Invitational in Bowling Green, Ohio, next weekend.
Although the team escaped this weekend unscathed, George still noticed some things that need work as MSU moves on with its season.
“Tonight we didn’t play very well — it was winning ugly,” George said after the Toledo match.
“But we’ve found a way to do that. I was really impressed with the comeback that we made.”
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