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Spartans to battle U-M in NCAA tourney

December 6, 2012

The MSU volleyball team is slated to play against Michigan today, but this time, the match will be anything but the usual.

The Spartans and Wolverines will clash for the third time this season in Berkeley, Calif., but it isn’t the long distance that is the biggest oddity of the match — it’s the stakes.

“Winners go on, losers go home,” junior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski said.

And Wicinski is exactly right, since tonight will be a do-or-die match in the regional semifinal of the NCAA Tournament.

The Spartans’ first Sweet 16 appearance since 2007 also will be the first time they play the Wolverines three times in the same season since 1994, where they squared off in a preseason tournament before two conference matchups.

Making a correct prediction for the match has the same difficulty as stopping a Wicinski kill shot. The teams split their matches on the year, with the Spartans sweeping the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, only to have the Wolverines return the favor in Jenison Field House on Nov. 21.

Although a win by either team is no guarantee, junior middle blocker Alexis Mathews knows that the Spartans will perform better than they did in their last match against Michigan.

“We are going to play better, obviously,” Mathews said. “We know what they are going to do, so we are working on cleaning up what we didn’t do last time.”

If the Spartans continue their roll, they will play the winner of the Stanford-Iowa State match.
No. 2 Stanford, who went 19-1 in the Pac-12 to win their conference title, have been 26-1 since starting their season on a rocky 3-3 record. Their success has been contributed to their balanced style of play, and owning the nation’s 11th-best blocks per set rate of 2.93.

No. 15 Iowa State is not a team to count out either, as they are carrying a 12-match winning streak into today’s match. During that run, Iowa State knocked off then-No. 20 Kansas State and, more impressively, then-No. 3 Texas, ending their 17-match winning streak.

The Spartans will have a chance to take one step closer to the Final Four at 8 p.m. EST tonight in University of California-Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion.

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