The football team isn’t the only team with a big rivalry game this week. The MSU volleyball team is hoping to continue MSU’s weeklong success against its in-state rivals when it takes on the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines at Jenison Field House on Wednesday night.
For the Spartans (15-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten), a win against Michigan would not only help the team’s confidence but also would boost its position in the Big Ten.
“Right now we’re neck and neck with them in the Big Ten standings,” senior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje said. “So it’s going to be key for us to play hard and go get the win.”
Rathje is one half of a dominating duo at the net, paired with senior outside hitter Kyndra Abron. Together, the girls have accounted for 547 kills, or about two-thirds of MSU’s total kills on the season.
The two seniors are also the only active players on the Spartans’ roster to have tallied more than 1,000 kills in their career, with Abron topping the mark this past weekend.
Rathje also is approaching several program records, including most sets and most matches played in a career.
“Kyndra and Jenilee have been unstoppable, and they’re such athletic kids,” head coach Cathy George said. “Jenilee with her jumping ability and Kyndra with her power, it’s a nice one-two punch for us.”
However, Abron and Rathje aren’t the only weapons the Spartans have going for them. Sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mathews has been a defensive stalwart, shutting down opposing offenses with ease. Behind her, freshman libero Kori Moster and senior defensive specialist Carli Weiler share cleanup duty, digging anything that gets by Mathews’ outstretched arms.
The back court will have to pull its weight on Wednesday, as Michigan ranks second in the Big Ten in both kills and service aces. However, Weiler said the team has been preparing for the Wolverines’ style of play, and their serving tendencies won’t catch her by surprise.
“Michigan’s always a good serving team, and we always prepare for their serves,” Weiler said. “I think that the best thing we can do is work on our servicing patterns, our relationships with each other, our communication right from the start of the game.”
Also on the line for the Spartans is a possible spot in postseason play. NCAA rules stipulate that a team must have a record over .500 to make the tournament and last season, the Spartans finished 15-16, missing it by a single game. One more win would put MSU ahead of last season’s record and improve its postseason chances. The Spartans are expecting a larger-than-normal turnout for the match. Playing their biggest rival in the middle of Homecoming week likely will bump up the usual attendance numbers, and Rathje said she hopes the crowd will get involved.
“It’s kind of like what (men’s basketball head coach Tom) Izzo always says about the Izzone,” she said. “A lot of times the Izzone can win him some close games, and hopefully they can do the same for us.”
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