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Volleyball welcomes 3 teams to E.L. for Spartan Invite

September 15, 2011

Looking to improve upon last weekend’s tournament, in which the Spartans lost their first match of the season, the MSU volleyball team (8-1) will host the Spartan Invitational this weekend.

Ball State, Virginia Commonwealth and Sacred Heart will make the trip to Jenison Field House for the two-day round-robin. The weekend’s games also mark the end of non-conference play for the Spartans, before they travel to Purdue on Sept. 23 to open the Big Ten season.

“We had a little bit of a letdown at Bowling Green (last Friday),” senior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje. “But we fought back on Saturday, so continuing to fight back and come back strong this week is going to be really important as we head into Purdue and Indiana.”

Head coach Cathy George also said one of the team’s goals in the Spartan Invitational is to continue improving before taking on the Big Ten.

However, that doesn’t mean that the team is not overlooking its competition this weekend.

“Ball State is a tremendous team,” George said. “They’ve always been physical, so we need to be ready to play that and execute our game plan.”

Offensively, the Spartans will need to continue their aggressiveness. This season, MSU has posted a .337 hitting percentage, which puts the Spartans atop the Big Ten. So far this season, the team has only lost three sets out of the 28 sets played due in part to play at the net.

Rathje leads the team in kills with 113, but senior outside hitter Kyndra Abron also has been playing well offensively, recording 97 kills this season.

One player for the Spartans to watch is sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mathews, who currently is leading the Big Ten in blocks with 1.71 per set. That number also finds Mathews ranked second in the nation in that category, and Mathews’ play has increased the team average to 3.21 blocks per set, which also leads the Big Ten.

Senior defensive specialist Carli Weiler has been having a career season, posting 3.64 digs per set, a personal best.

But there always is room for improvement, and the Spartans have been working hard to see it.

“Our last tournament didn’t go the way we’d have liked it to,” Mathews said. “Bowling Green did expose a few things that we need to work on, so this week has gone towards working on those.”

George added that her team “needs to have the entire game put in place before we take on the Big Ten.”

The Spartans will open the tournament against Ball State at 7 p.m. Friday, and take on Virginia Commonwealth and Sacred Heart at noon and 7:30 p.m., respectively, Saturday.

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