After MSU began Big Ten season with a stunning upset over then-No. 1 Penn State at home, it’s a safe assumption the Nittany Lions had their rematch against the Spartans circled on the calender.
On Saturday night, No. 2 Penn State proved why they’re one of the top powerhouses in the nation. They imposed their will on No. 14 MSU. There’s no other way to describe it.
They out-blocked the Spartans by a 15-5 margin, and MSU didn’t register a block until the third set. Penn State took care of the ball, committing just five errors for the match.
It all added up to a 3-0 sweep. It’s MSU’s (18-6 overall, 7-5 Big Ten) first sweep since falling to Pacific in straight sets on Aug. 31.
“Penn State came out and played extremely,” head coach Cathy George said after the game. “They executed extremely well. I thought they passed well, it enabled them to do a lot with their offense. And with the kind of players they have, that’s kind of hard to do, to play defense against three very viable options in their offense.”
If there is a silver lining, its the play of of the freshman rotation players. They capitalized on the defensive pressure allocated to Wicinski and senior middle blocker Alexis Mathews, who finished with four kills and zero blocks.
Outside hitter Chloe Reinig posted a team-high 11 kills, and middle blocker Allyssah Fitterer had 10 kills and two blocks.
“I thought they stepped up a ton,” George said of her freshmen. “I thought Allyssah was a little skittish in game one, and then she came back and really set into it in games two and three. I was real proud of how brave she was and how she went after it. And Chloe, she was taking off on them and really came through the ball fast. They really had no answer at times for her.”
Fitterer admitted to nerves in the first set, where she only had two kills and no blocks. However, a little advice from coach helped her get back on track.
“In the first game, I was a little nervous and Cathy pulled me aside and said ‘Hey, you’re better than this,’” Fitterer said. “And after that, I was just like, in the moment. And I knew they were going to be releasing on Lauren and keying on (Wicinski). So (Wicinski), being the star she is, gave me the chance to hit some balls and score some points for the team.”
Penn State established the block early and took the first four points of the set until a Mathews kill put MSU on the board. Blocks accounted for four of Penn State’s first six points. George called a timeout once Penn State increased the lead to 9-3.
“Our blocking in general wasn’t what it needed to be,” George said. “We need to get back to the drawing board on that and clean up some things, make ourselves a little more dynamic. I thought we were going up early, going up late and then we weren’t getting settled in where we needed to get settled in.”
The Nittany Lions scored two points out of the timeout. Galloway sent in a kill to break the streak, but MSU’s struggles at the net continued. Penn State increased the lead to 15-6 with the help of several MSU attacking errors.
The Spartans tried to gain momentum but never got within seven. Fittingly, a Spartan attacking error and service error gave Penn State the first set win, 25-14.
Penn State scored the first point of the second set off a Spartan service error, and went on to score the next three points. Penn State increased their lead to 8-3.
After a timid start, the Spartans began to show some life by going on a run to trim Penn State’s lead to 10-8. MSU continued to fight, eventually forcing Penn State to call a timeout with a 15-12 lead. MSU kept things close by limiting errors — they only committed four in the second set compared to 11 in the first.
However, Penn State continued to maintain their poise. A few errors hurt MSU down the stretch as they fell to the Nittany Lions once again, 25-18.
The third set started off promisingly. Reinig scored MSU’s first two kills, and Fitterer sent in another one to give MSU its first lead of the entire match, 3-2. Penn State reclaimed the lead, 6-5, after MSU committed its seventeenth attacking error of the match.
Galloway notched MSU’s first block of the night, and Penn State committed two service errors to keep the set close. However, Penn State eventually pushed its lead to 13-15 to spur an MSU timeout.
In the end, Penn State pulled away. The Spartans couldn’t get to within four as Penn State remained poised to complete the sweep.
It’s a tough loss for MSU after snapping a four-game losing streak with a win over Ohio State Friday night. But if any positives came from Saturday’s loss, it’s the confidence that MSU’s young players are gaining as Big Ten season grinds on.
“I think I’m finding my place on the court, and I’m finding what I love to do,” Fitterer said. “I know I can be fast and I know I can hit faster than the blocks so if I can contribute that to the team and get points for it, then I’m going to continue doing it.”
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