Less than 24 hours after the MSU volleyball team lost a five-set heartbreaker to No. 7 Nebraska, the Spartans (13-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) rebounded at home against the Iowa Hawkeyes, winning 3-0.
Senior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje led the Spartans with 12 kills on the night while sophomore middle blocker Kelsey Kuipers tallied 10 kills of her own. Kuipers also racked up a .909 hitting percentage, recording 11 attacks without an error.
The win was an important one for the Spartans, who showed they could battle back from a devastating loss. Rathje said the team aimed to, at the very least, split each weekend’s games, and head coach Cathy George was pleased with the team’s perseverance.
“I was a little concerned about the emotion and energy we expended (Friday),” George said. “It was a tough, tough match. But I talked to our team about getting ready to go, getting their rest, getting their dinner and coming back in because we had a very important match today, and we came back.”
After a match in which the Spartans offense was led by two seniors, George said it was important the team spread the ball around against Iowa. Kuipers’ performance showed the Spartans were able to do just that.
“We knew coming into Iowa that middles would need to be set more,” Kuipers said. “Myself and the setters were just really clicking, so it went well.”
The Spartans came out looking like they had something to prove, jumping out to an early 9-4 lead, forcing the Hawkeyes to call a timeout. MSU continued to roll after the break, winning the first set, 25-14.
Kuipers led the Spartans in the first set, racking up four kills and making a couple smart plays by quickly tapping the ball over the net when the Hawkeyes were out of position.
Rathje was quiet in set one but came alive in the second set, powering the Spartans to a 25-22 victory with seven kills. The Hawkeyes forced MSU to work for its last point of the set, coming up with key digs when the Spartans seemed to have the set in hand. However, Rathje ended the point on a powerful kill to put the Spartans up 2-0 leading into intermission.
In set three, the Spartans overpowered the Hawkeyes, racing out to a 13-7 lead before Iowa head coach Sharon Dingman called a timeout to try to slow MSU’s momentum. After the timeout, the Spartans came out just as strong, not releasing their foot from the pedal until they took the set and the match, 25-12.
Powered largely by a hot start in the first set, the 3-0 victory was MSU’s 11th sweep of the season.
The Spartans will return to Jenison Field House next weekend for two more Big Ten games against Wisconsin and Minnesota on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, after picking up the split this weekend.
“When we come out strong we set a tone, not only to ourselves but also to our opponents,” Rathje said. “Coming out strong against Iowa, showing them they don’t have any hope put them in the tank from the get-go, and the game became easier for us.”
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