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Volleyball hits road for important conference games

November 3, 2011

Once again, the MSU volleyball team is gearing up for a tough weekend matchup against a ranked opponent as the Spartans kick off a four-game road trip with matches at Iowa and No. 2 Nebraska.

The Spartans (17-7 overall, 6-6 Big Ten) previously defeated Iowa 3-0 but lost to Nebraska 3-2 when both teams came to Jenison Field House during the last weekend in September. In the match against Nebraska, the Spartans nearly pulled out an upset over the then-No. 7 Cornhuskers, largely thanks to the raucous home crowd. However, the Spartans will see the other side of that coin as Nebraska consistently is selling out the Nebraska Coliseum.

“It’s a hostile crowd,” sophomore setter Kristen Kelsay said. “It’s a sea of red, it’s people on their feet cheering all the time. They’ve got a great fan base so to go in there and steal a win is going to be difficult, but we’re looking forward to (the challenge).”

Although none of the Spartans have played in Nebraska’s venue, Kelsay caught a glimpse of the environment when she was being recruited by the Cornhuskers several years ago.

Last time the Spartans played Nebraska, they were led by senior outside hitters Jenilee Rathje and Kyndra Abron, who combined for a total 47 kills, or about 72.3 percent of the team’s total offense. Head coach Cathy George said part of the reason MSU was unable to finish the match was due to the team’s lack of diversity in scoring.

“I thought we became extremely predictable as the match went on,” George said. “And we need to balance our offense out and take swings all the way around the net (next time).”

Since the beginning of Big Ten play, the Spartans have split each week’s games. The level of play in the Big Ten has made it difficult for MSU to break away from the pack in the conference, but a big weekend against the Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes could remedy that.

Rathje said having already played Nebraska to the brink made preparing for the match a little easier.

“We’re just working really hard this week,” she said. “(We’re) watching film about what went well and what we can improve anywhere we came up short.”

Although Nebraska is looming on Saturday, George made it a point to note that the Spartans will not be overlooking the Hawkeyes.

“Iowa is definitely improving and doing some nice things, so we’ll have our hands full on Friday,” she said.

In the previous matchup, the Spartans did a fantastic job of limiting the Hawkeyes’ offense, holding them to 28 total kills and a hitting percentage of .119. With the exception of a 25-22 set two victory, MSU also beat the Hawkeyes handily in each set, throttling them for a 25-14 and 25-12 sets one and three.

Above it all, their first weekend sweep would be monumental for the Spartans, who have been clamoring for national recognition the entire season. And a win against two conference opponents will certainly help propel them in the rankings.

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