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Volleyball set to host pair of Big Ten games

October 6, 2011

The Big Ten home season continues for the MSU volleyball team as it prepares to host Wisconsin and No. 14 Minnesota at Jenison Field House this weekend.

Despite accumulating an impressive record, the Spartans (13-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) have flown mostly under the radar, having not received a vote in the AVCA top 25 poll since Sept. 5. The team hopes a win over ranked Minnesota will help accrue some much-deserved respect.

“We’ve been working to get that respect since we started, so a key win against Minnesota would be awesome for this team,” sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mathews said.

The Spartans have accomplished a lot this season, but recognition has eluded them. Only freshman libero Kori Moster has received Big Ten honors despite solid performances from Mathews and senior outside hitters Jenilee Rathje and Kyndra Abron.

Against Wisconsin, the Spartans are playing a somewhat unfamiliar opponent. Although MSU plays the Badgers twice every year, Wisconsin is a young team with a lot of talent. However, associate head coach Russ Carney believes that could give the Spartans an edge.

“(Wisconsin) had the (seventh-ranked) recruiting class last year, but what also comes with youth is the unknown,” he said. “They’ve never been in our field house, (and) they don’t know what to expect when they come here, so I think that gives us an advantage.”

On Saturday against the Golden Gophers, the Spartans will face a team hungry for a win. Minnesota was swept by then-No. 24 Ohio State and then-No. 9 Penn State, 3-0, last weekend.

Minnesota has had distractions off the court this season, being led by interim head coach Laura Bush until Hugh McCutcheon returns from coaching the U.S. women’s volleyball team in the 2012 Olympics. Carney said he thinks Minnesota has been changing its style of play to adjust.

“(Wisconsin has) youth — they’re unknown to us, and we haven’t seen these kids before,” he said. “Minnesota, we’ve played them last year, (and) we know what to expect from them.”

In the end, the Spartans are looking for wins to continue building confidence. An impressive win not only would help the Spartans climb the Big Ten ladder, but also would send a message to the rest of the conference. Rathje said focus on a physical style of play would help the Spartans deliver that message.

“We’ve been working on hitting hard and aggressive shots during practice,” Rathje said. “We have to have the mentality that they need to stop us, not the other way around.”

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