More than 7,500 people came to Jenison Field House over the weekend to watch the No. 20 ranked MSU volleyball team start off their conference schedule, splitting the two games. On Friday MSU ousted the University of Iowa (10-4, 0-2 Big Ten) before falling to the No. 1 University of Nebraska (11-0, 2-0 Big Ten) on Saturday.
In their first match of the weekend, the Spartans swept the Hawkeyes in straight sets (25-18, 25-15, 25-18). Iowa came into the match off to their best start since 2006, recording a 10-2 overall record during their non-conference schedule.
For redshirt-junior Autumn Bailey, the match was a reunion of sorts. Hawkeyes head coach Bond Shymansky originally recruited Bailey when both were at Marquette University.
“We have a really great relationship,” Bailey said. “He’s a great person, I love playing against him. It’s kind of funny, he knows how I play and so I can see that he’s told the things to his team about my tendencies, but I like playing against him.”
As for the game, there were only seven tie scores and two lead changes. The Spartans as a hit 34.5 percent and chipped in nine service aces.
While MSU started off red-hot and cooled off a bit, head coach Cathy George said she thought that wasn’t because of her team, but their opponent's ability.
“Iowa is a strong team that only has two losses on the season,” George said. “I expected them to rebound, they weren’t just going to lay over and die. That doesn’t happen in the Big Ten. I would expect a fight from them. What we needed to do is make sure we kept the pressure on, I think we did get a little distracted. ... I credit Iowa too for doing nice things.”
Looking into the next day, the Spartans faced off against the consensus No. 1 team in the country and the defending national champions in the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Before the match, MSU also honored their 1976 volleyball team. Forty years ago, the group advanced to the Elite Eight back in the days when they competed in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, or AIAW. Those were the days before the NCAA sponsored championships for women's sports.
With the 1976 team in attendance, the Spartans raced out to a 2-0 lead before eventually falling in five sets, 3-2 (25-22, 25-23, 20-25, 14-25, 14-16).
Just like the night before, the Spartans started off fast once again, evidenced by taking the first two sets from the Cornhuskers. Late in the first set, though, two crucial calls swung the momentum in the Spartans’ favor.
With the score knotted up 20-20 on back-to-back plays, challenges were issued, one by George and the other by Nebraska head coach John Cook. Both points were awarded to the Spartans as they finished off the first set 25-22. MSU was successful in the first set and did not allow Nebraska to take the lead.
The fifth set saw a competitive back-and-forth between the teams, as there were six tie scores and three lead changes in the game to 15. The Spartans had match point when they were up 14-13. MSU, however, faltered, giving up three straight points to the Cornhuskers and losing 16-14.
After the tough loss, the 1976 MSU volleyball team talked to the current Spartans inside the locker room. Captain Rachel Minarick said they discussed things not only on the volleyball court, but also life off the court as well.
“(Talking to the 1976 team) actually really helped put it into perspective,” Minarick said. “They played such a long time ago and they’re still so close together. It just puts it into perspective that this is a bond that you’re going to have for the rest of your life, just knowing that this is one match in your whole life.”
George also said while Saturday's loss was tough, the team will be back to business again starting this week.
“(This week we will be) getting ready for Penn State and Rutgers and we’ll just get back to work,” George said. “Just kind of get back at that stuff, and it’s nothing really different. We’ll just stay the course and do what we do.”
The Spartans will be back in action this upcoming weekend as they travel east to face off against Penn State University at 7 p.m. on Sept. 30 and Rutgers University at 7 p.m. on Oct. 1.
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