The MSU volleyball team, fresh off a sweep over Rutgers, faces their toughest task this week. The Spartans will be defending their home court of Jenison Field House, taking on the No. 6 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes Wednesday night and the No. 5 ranked Penn State Lady Lions Saturday night.
The sweep of Rutgers gives the Spartans a 5-3 record in the Big Ten heading toward the halfway mark of conference play. The Buckeyes and Lady Lions are poised to be healthy and ready to invade East Lansing, but head coach Cathy George has the Spartans ready to perform at the highest level.
“We play Ohio State, who is ranked sixth in the country and who has been playing really, really well,” George said. “They play a high-voltage kind of game. They play hard, they fight, they grind. They just get after it.”
Ohio State sits tied at the top of the Big Ten with Nebraska with a 7-1 record. They are 18-2 overall. Penn State suffered early conference upsets to Nebraska and Northwestern, but still remains ranked in the top five nationally.
Prior to Saturday’s contest, former Spartan Kori Moster will have her All-American banner raised in the rafters of Jenison Field House. She ranks third in school history with 2,218 career digs, and was a three-time All-American and two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
MSU leads the Big Ten in kills per set at 14.37, and second in the conference with 13.28 assists per set. Some of that has to due with the Jenison Field House crowd, which ranks 12th in national average housing 2,436 fans per contest. These improvements for MSU has George feeling confident.
“We are progressing nicely," she said. "I’m pleased with the improvements that we’ve been making through the season and growing every week, that’s really what our focus has been on.”
Speaking of progression, Alyssa Garvelink, an undecided sophomore, was awarded with the Big Ten Player of the week, recording a combined 23 kills with a .588 hit percentage against Maryland and Rutgers. Rachel Minarick, a kinesiology sophomore, earned the Big Ten Setter of the Week with standout performances last week, much to the delight of George.
“We are excited with Alyssa Garvelink honor this last week along with Rachel Minarick, two of our sophomores getting those honors,” George said. “But what I was pleased with was how they executed what we were working on.”
The Big Ten Conference has been hard on everyone, not only the Spartans. Penn State, a perennial powerhouse in women’s collegiate volleyball, has already suffered two losses, and no one in the conference is undefeated after eight games. Coach George has taken notice.
“Everybody is kind of just pushing for position so that by the end of the year we will see where it’s at,” George said. “The Big Ten is super strong this year ... We are seeing great performances to the point where you could see 10, maybe 11 teams getting into the NCAA tournament. The strength is brutal but everyone has gone outside the conference and had great wins.”
The Spartans are riding a three-game winning streak into Wednesday’s matchup against Ohio State, and are still receiving votes for the AVCA Top 25 poll. George knows the team is right there, but for now, it’s just waiting and seeing what happens.
“We’re hanging in there," George said. "This is a big week for us, but what I have learned in the Big Ten is you control what you can control. Every year something unexpected happens. ... You never know until the very last game is played.”
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