Before a Jenison Field House crowd cackling with electricity, the MSU volleyball team defeated the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines, 3-1.
Senior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje led the way for the Spartans (16-5 overall, 5-4 Big Ten), tallying 21 kills and a season-high 17 digs for her fifth double-double of the season. Senior outside hitter Kyndra Abron chipped in with 9 kills.
The win marked the first win over a ranked team for the Spartansthis season. Head coach Cathy George said the victory should help MSU’s own standing in the NCAA rankings.
“We really feel like this helped us,” she said. “We were at 31 (in the RPI poll) so I’d like to see us jump up a little bit there.”
The Wolverines began the match on the wrong foot after middle blocker Courtney Fletcher hit her first serve of the night long. Michigan has been having success with service aces all season long but struggled in set one, giving up 5 service errors.
On the other side of the net, the Spartans came out ready for a battle, racking up impressive runs of five and seven straight points to put U-M away in the first set, 25-16.
Set two was a different story, as the Wolverines were able to battle back and drop the Spartans, 25-23. MSU was able to take Michigan to the brink, thanks in part to a spectacular dig by freshman libero Kori Moster to keep a Spartan rally alive during match point, forcing U-M to call its second timeout of the set.
However Moster’s effort proved to be in vain, as the MSU lost the set on the next play.
The Spartans were able to regain control of the match in set three, rebounding to topple the Wolverines, 25-21. The set saw some tense moments, as the Spartans appeared to slip near the end, but a well-timed timeout called by George righted the MSU ship, and the Spartans were able to take a 2-1 set lead into the fourth set.
MSU was finally able to put the match away in set four, toppling the Wolverines 25-23. After going back and forth throughout the set, MSU took a 22-20 lead, forcing a U-M timeout.
However, Michigan was able to climb back into it, and at 24-23, it was U-M service. The final volley could have gone either way, but Rathje ended the match on a commanding kill that launched the Jenison crowd into a frenzy.
The home court advantage was in full effect for the Spartans, as fans leapt from their seats after each dominating kill and devastating block. The crowd of 3,526 was the largest that Michigan State has seen at home this year and the Spartans played off the energy beautifully.
“Sometimes (the crowd) can win a match for you,” Rathje said. “(Tonight) they were super loud, always in their face and I honestly think it counted towards a lot of the unforced errors that Michigan gave up.”
Defensively, Moster had another impressive game, filling in the gaps by posting 24 digs. The Wolverines also had trouble finding a way around Abron and sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mathews, both of whom had four blocks at the net.
“Blocking is always huge,” Abron said. “Tonight it was important because we knew that we had to close the block because they had some really good hitters and some really fast arcs.”
The Spartans will continue Big Ten play on Saturday when they travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the No. 23 Ohio State Buckeyes.
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