The MSU volleyball team is slated to play No. 24 Arkansas State at 7 p.m. on Friday night in Seattle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Head coach Cathy George knows the season was filled with ups and downs, especially playing in a volleyball powerhouse conference such as the Big Ten. MSU ended the season on a four-game winning streak, but had lost seven in a row prior to that — its longest losing streak since 1993.
“It makes it rough along the way when you are playing such great competition because sometimes you get it handed to you,” George said. “You got to rebound, respond, get back at it and improve, and I think our team has done that. So going into this match, we know that we have been battle tested.”
The Spartans’ fifth-straight tournament appearance is the third longest in the Big Ten behind Penn State and Nebraska.
The Spartans were on the fringe of a tournament berth, but might have solidified their standing after defeating then-No. 14 Purdue on the road. Then they turned right around and swept the Iowa Hawkeyes on senior day.
“It was a difference maker,” George said. “We knew we had to put ourselves in position by beating Purdue, a 14th ranked team, a very talented team, and it was a must-win for us.”
Although the Spartans had a feeling they would make the tournament field of 64, despite an 18-13 record, it was quite the relief to the team hearing its placement. MSU built its resume all year, defeating ranked opponents like Ohio State and North Carolina, and defeating other teams selected into the tournament.
“We all watched it together, so we were at the stadium watching it on TV,” senior captain Halle Peterson said. “It was just kind of an intense moment, we knew we had a chance but we didn’t know how big our chance was, so when we found out we were ecstatic.”
As for Arkansas State, the Red Wolves are 28-1 with their lone loss coming in their fifth game of the season.
The Red Wolves ride a 24-game winning streak and won the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament championship.
Arkansas State’s lineup is littered with talent, having four all-conference first team selections.
“They have an offense similar to Minnesota, so we have seen it before,” Peterson said. “It’s pretty fast, so we are just going to have to adjust to that and dig some balls. They are going to be scrappy. We are going to have to stay patient and hang with them.”
If the Spartans defeat Arkansas State, their next opponent would most likely be the No. 5 seed Washington Huskies.
The No. 5 seed is deceptive, since Washington finished the season ranked No. 1 in the AVCA Coaches Poll and were co-champions of the Pac-12 conference.
But for MSU, they hope its tough Big Ten schedule has prepared them well for the postseason.
“You know, to play great competition and we have been in pressure moments almost every night,” Peterson said. “We know what it’s like to be under pressure.”