With heady anticipation, the volleyball team sat in the Varsity S Club room of Spartan Stadium, waiting to see ‘Michigan State’ appear on the bracket on the screen.
It was a bit of a wait, but at last, a roar of cheers erupted from the room as MSU appeared under Ohio, the first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament for the Spartans.
“I’m really excited,” said senior setter Kristen Kelsay. “You see your name up there and it’s just like, you’re nervous, you’re excited, it’s just a big rush of emotions.”
The 64-team pool in the NCAA Tournament was unveiled Sunday night as the NCAA volleyball selection show aired on ESPNU at 9:30 p.m. The MSU volleyball team (21-11 overall, 10-10 Big Ten) earned an at-large bid and will travel to Lexington, KY. to take on Mid-American Conference champion Ohio on Friday.
“Ohio is a great team,” said head coach Cathy George. “They’ve always been well respected in the (MAC). They’ve won a lot of conference titles … You can see the key contributions from a lot of different players.”
After an up-and-down regular season, the team views postseason as a clean slate. George learned a lot about the Spartans as they got off to a blazing 17-1 start to the season before regressing. On Friday, they will look to capture some of the early-season magic.
“You learn a lot as you go through the Big Ten conference,” George said. “You constantly learn about your team, you’re stressed a little bit, you’re going through the ups and downs of Big Ten season, the back to back nature teams that are ranked in the top-25 teams.”
Big Ten season was a challenge at times for the Spartans, but experience has taught the team that the toughness of the Big Ten conference tends to prepare teams for postseason play.
“It’s a blessing and a curse about the Big Ten, it’s how much of a grind it is,” Kelsay said. “It’s a long season. But that’s what prepares you for the NCAA Tournament. We play Friday, Saturday night, every night in the Big Ten, often against top 10 opponents.”
Kelsay pointed to last year, when the Spartans took down San Diego in five sets in the first round, and defeated defending national champ UCLA in the second round just a day later.
“The Big Ten prepared us for that,” she said. “There are some similarities there, but there’s this breath of new life.”
The winner of Friday’s match will face either Duquesne or host 15-seed Kentucky in round two on Saturday. With the rigors of Big Ten season in the past, the Spartans advance into postseason knowing another loss will spell the end of a promising season.
“You have six games, you’re looking at it that way, and it’s survive-and-advance, as they say in March,” George said. “But that’s what it is. It’s getting after these teams and just going in there and giving the best effort and get after it, get it done”
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