When Texas outside hitter Haley Eckerman drove home one last kill to give the Longhorns a 3-0 set win over the MSU volleyball team Saturday, the freshman also ended the Spartans’ best season in recent history.
Head coach Cathy George’s squad accrued a 22-12 record and notched its first tournament win since 2007 with a 3-1 win over Arizona on Friday night. MSU had some quality wins, including 3-1 victories over then-No. 22 Michigan and then-No. 7 Illinois. The Spartans also had some near upsets, falling 3-2 against then-No. 2 Nebraska and at then-No. 1 Illinois in one of the toughest volleyball venues in the nation.
Two Spartans were named All-Big Ten, senior outside hitters Jenilee Rathje and Kyndra Abron, while Rathje also recently was named to the AVCA All-Mideast Region team after surpassing 500 kills on the season.
Freshman libero Kori Moster also was a bright spot for MSU and looks to lead the team for years to come. She leads the Big Ten in conference-only digs, averaging 4.74 a set in her first year sporting the green and white.
The Spartans will lose five seniors to graduation, with outside hitter Becca Zlabis, setter Natalie Emro and defensive specialist Carli Weiler joining Abron and Rathje on their way out.
Rathje looked back fondly on her time with the team and their success this season.
“It’s hard to sum up this season, it was incredible from day one,” she said. “Now that (us seniors are) leaving the program and knowing that we made an impact not only on the program itself but on the individual girls on the team is incredibly rewarding.”
Although the Spartans are losing several leaders, they have grown considerably this season and could use the success of this season as a platform to build a program that not only hangs with the best of the conference but wins those games as well.
“People say we may be counted out next year, but I don’t think I’d say that,” Moster said. “We’re going to have a very skillful volleyball team next year, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
When asked to look back on her first season, Moster said the senior class helped her learn how to step into a leadership role and welcome her incoming teammates.
“Honestly I couldn’t have asked for a better freshman year,” Moster said. “The relationships that I’ve built with my teammates this season will be ones that will stay forever, and that’s the biggest thing I can take away from it.”
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