For the second straight year, the No. 20 MSU volleyball team is Sweet Sixteen bound.
The Spartans (23-11 overall, 10-10 Big Ten) defeated No. 17 Kentucky in four sets (25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 25-20) at Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky. MSU will face No. 2 Penn State on Friday, with whom they split the season series.
Senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski had a huge game —16 kills, 17 digs and four blocks. Senior middle blocker Alexis Mathews had 12 kills and four blocks. Freshman middle blocker Allyssah Fitterer tied her career high with 15 kills and added three blocks.
Junior libero Kori Moster had 22 digs and sophomore Halle Peterson also had a double double with 25 assists and 11 digs.
Mathews and freshman outside hitter Chloe Reinig got it going early, scoring five combined kills to give the Spartans a 5-2 lead. Kentucky bounced right back, tying the game at 11 before taking a 12-11 lead. MSU responded with a 3-0 run to regain the lead at 15-12
A 4-1 run allowed the Wildcats to tie the set once again at 16-16. From there, MSU began to pull away. Senior middle blocker Kelsey Kuipers had three kills in a 7-4 run to give MSU a 23-20 lead. Each team went 2-2 to close the set with a 25-22 MSU win.
MSU asserted itself early in set two, using its potent block to take a 6-2 lead. Kentucky answered back, outscoring MSU 7-2 to take a 9-8 lead. The Spartans pulled back on top soon after, going up 15-12 midway through. But seven-straight Wildcat points helped the home team take a 19-15 advantage.
MSU scored two after the run to snap it, but Kentucky continued to roll. The Wildcats took six of the next 10 points to win set two, 25-21.
Kentucky carried the momentum into set three, taking a 13-8 lead early on. But a switch flicked for MSU, as they went on an 8-3 run to tie the game at 16. Kentucky kept it reasonably close, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Spartans from taking a 2-1 match lead and winning the third set, 25-22.
MSU cruised from that moment on. The Spartans lead 6-1 in set four before Kentucky almost tied the game, coming within two with the score at 11-9. Wicinski scored three of the next five Spartan points to give MSU a 16-12 lead.
Kentucky managed to cut the score to two on a couple more occasions, at 17-15 and then at 18-16. But MSU kept the burners going, taking a 23-18 lead late in the set. The Spartans went on to win set four, 25-20.
MSU will take on Penn State at 5 p.m. on Friday in the Sweet Sixteen round.
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