For the third straight weekend, the MSU volleyball team (14-4 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) split its weekend games, beating back the Wisconsin Badgers 3-1 Friday night but suffering a humbling 3-0 loss against No. 14 Minnesota on Saturday.
The Spartans did not play with their usual vigor and had trouble closing out their sets against Wisconsin. Despite getting out to strong starts in each set, MSU allowed the Badgers to climb back into contention, forcing the Spartans to work for each point.
The Spartans’ struggles against Wisconsin came to a head when they had a chance to close out the match in three sets, but were unable to hang with the Badgers in a shoot out, falling 34-32. The 32 points scored marked the highest amount of points scored in a set for MSU since it adopted the 25-point scoring system.
It wasn’t until set four when the Spartans finally sparked to life, knocking off the Badgers without much difficulty, 25-19. The play of senior outside hitters Jenilee Rathje and Kyndra Abron turned out to be the difference maker as the pair combined for a total 42 kills, making up 70 percent of the team’s total. Sophomore setter Kristen Kelsay also had a prominent role in the win, tallying 44 assists, setting a new personal best.
However, the star of the weekend was freshman libero Kori Moster, who recorded a career-best 17 assists against Wisconsin and followed up with a 24-dig performance against Minnesota, another personal best and program high in a three match set since adopting the 25-point scoring system.
“We had a good game plan to start out with,” Moster said. “I knew their general tendencies and I have to give credit to our coaching staff. I wouldn’t have known that without our pregame.”
But it wasn’t enough for the Spartans, who fell to Minnesota in three straight sets. Although the team’s match against Wisconsin proved to be draining, head coach Cathy George said her team can’t allow itself to be affected by what happened the previous night.
“We need to go out there and be ready to battle,” she said. “It’s the Big Ten, every night is a battle and if we didn’t have stamina, we need to find a way to get stamina, because we’re going to need it the rest of the year.”
Throughout the match, MSU’s offense had trouble forcing the ball through Minnesota’s back court defense. The Golden Gophers tallied 52 digs throughout the match to back up their front court defense, which recorded eight blocks.
“When they were digging us, we backed off a little bit,” Abron said. “We have to stay aggressive when we come across a team that plays defense as well as they do.”
The loss could end up hurting MSU in more ways than one, as it also kills any chance of building momentum before traveling to Illinois next weekend to take on Northwestern. The Spartans will then face their biggest challenge of the season as they take on the number one team in the nation, the Illinois Fighting Illini on the road in a usually raucous Huff Hall.
“(The loss) just focuses a little bit on what we need to do this week,” George said. “We need to get that much better if we’re going to get after a number one Illinois and a very good Northwestern team. It’s going to take detail and discipline in order for us to take that next step.”
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