A couple hours after the MSU women’s basketball game ended at Breslin Center, a cry of excitement erupted at the otherwise quiet nearby Berkowitz Basketball Complex.
Inside, the MSU volleyball team gathered to watch the NCAA tournament selection show at 6:00 p.m. to see where the team would be headed and who it will be playing in the first round of the tournament.
The show barely had begun when the first half of the Lexington, Ky., Regional flashed on the screen, showing that the Spartans (21-11 overall, 10-10 Big Ten) will face the Arizona Wildcats in Austin, Texas.
“It was exciting, a sigh of relief right away,” senior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje said about the swiftness of the news. “Just knowing that we were in and got a good draw. So right away, right off the bat we knew.”
MSU will take on the Wildcats at 5:30 p.m. Friday. If the Spartans advance, they will face either Texas State or No. 1 overall seeded Texas in the second round.
In series history, Arizona holds a 2-1 lead on the Spartans, but the two teams haven’t faced each other since 1990, when the Wildcats swept the Green and White 3-0.
Despite the fact that MSU hasn’t faced Arizona in 21 years, the Spartans still have an idea of who their opponent is. Senior defensive specialist Carli Weiler and sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mathews had a chance to see a pair of Arizona players when they played with them this past summer as members of the U.S. National A2 team.
Weiler played with Arizona middle blocker Cursty Jackson while Mathews was on outside hitter Madison Kingdon’s team. Weiler said having played with the two girls gives the team somewhat of an edge but not a great one since they only make up a small percentage of the team. However, she added that the caliber of play of those two will make them key players to watch during film sessions.
“They’re both amazing players, very physical players and very smart players. So I think we’ll definitely put a lot of emphasis on those two,” Weiler said. “They’ll definitely be leaders. They were leaders in the USA program, so I’m excited to see them and how they’ve improved since.”
Although there is not much time for the Spartans to prepare for their opponent, head coach Cathy George said the team already has begun getting ready because it has played some of the toughest teams in the country during conference play.
“Playing in the Big Ten, which had the most teams in and three different teams at number one in the nation this year, it prepares you every day for this time of the year,” she said. “I know our team has had to play against the very best. They’ve played against the most physical teams across the board, and even when you lose, you take something from that.”
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