At the midpoint of the season, the volleyball team is at a crossroads.
MSU (9-6 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) after defeating Michigan (6-8 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) at Jenison on Friday night is in prime position to contend in a tough Big Ten conference or free fall into oblivion.
This time last year was a pivotal stretch for the Spartans, who started the season with a 17-1 record and then fell flat on their face, stumbling to a 6-11 finish.
In a perfect world, the tables will be turned this season. The Spartans, who have hovered around .500 thus far, will finish on a strong note unlike last year and carry the momentum into the NCAA tournament.
Reasons for Optimism
Head coach Cathy George and her team have a few things working in their favor going forward.
The Spartans are a young team but a deep team. It’s not uncommon to see George cycle through 12 players during a game, and now 15 games into the season, the underclassmen have had time to carve out their niche.
Take freshman setter Rachel Minarick as an example. She has emerged as somewhat of a dual threat for the Spartans, who lost their only other setter junior Halle Peterson to injury.
Minarick’s 9.7 assists per set ranks eighth in the conference and her 6 foot 2 inch stature allows her to reach over the net for kills, which is uncommon for a setter.
Minarick had seven kills against Michigan on Friday and has 52 total on the season.
Speaking of height, the women’s volleyball team average player is 72.17 inches (a little over 6 feet), ranking them second behind Nebraska (72.37 inches) in average height per player in the Big Ten.
George and her players routinely preach the importance of using height to their advantage.
The Spartans are at their best when they are deflecting shots on defense at the net and giving sophomore hitters Chloe Reinig (6-foot-4-inches) and Allyssah Fitterer (6-foot-2-inches) chances to kill.
Over the next three weeks, MSU will play some familiar foes, who they had success against last season.
Discounting the upcoming games against Big Ten newcomers Rutgers and Maryland, MSU went a combined 6-2 against Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio State and Penn State, all of whom they play in October.
So far so good, the Spartans at the midpoint of the season control their own destiny but in order to make good on their championship aspirations they will have to find some consistency during this crucial stretch.