In front of more than 3,600 people, the MSU volleyball team hosted No. 7 Florida last weekend for the annual Auto-Owners Spartan Invitational. While the Spartans fell in straight sets to Florida, MSU had a going 2-1.
Now 5-1 overall this season, the Spartans have been led by their upperclassmen, many of whom make up the starting lineup. During the invitational, captains and played a majority of the team’s sets. Reinig played all nine sets while Minarick sat out on just one.
It wasn’t always like this for the Spartans. Reinig, now a senior, remembers when the team wasn’t so heavily comprised of upperclassmen.
“We were such a young team,” Reinig said. “We’ve gotten to the stage where we’re seniors and juniors, so we definitely have that wise play behind us. It shows now, we definitely are playing more mature and just handling ourselves really well.”
Head coach said she also understands the luxury of having an experienced team, because experience is important, too — actual time on the court brings valuable lessons with it.
“What’s nice about the upperclassmen is that they’re experienced, it’s not just that they’re old,” George said. “It’s that they know exactly how to respond when we say (certain things). We’ve been in those situations before, they understand how to adjust and how to make it better immediately. ... I think their communication within each other gets better on the court, because they recognize what it is they should be talking about.”
Last season the Spartans were affected by injuries and relied on depth to get them through the season. George said because so many players were out, the experience they gained has been tremendous.
That depth was again on display this weekend, as a total of 15 players out of 17 on the roster saw the court at some point during the three matches.
One upperclassman who returned to the court was redshirt-junior The transfer from Marquette missed significant time in 2015 after suffering a season-ending ACL injury during her first match. Now, she’s back and assuming a starting role at outside hitter.
“Last year was really, really tough for me, not being able to play and just traveling and having to watch,” Bailey said. “Finally getting back on the floor feels great. Being able to contribute to the team in a way that’s not just feedback and talking to them on sideline. I was really excited to play and I’m really happy that I’m back.”
While Bailey and the Spartans struggled against Florida, she said the team has grown since last season.
“Last year, we were a bit immature on the court,” Bailey said. “We didn’t know how to weather the storm. Now this year we’re a lot more consistent, you can see when we start getting panicked and the other team goes on a run, we just remain calm and keep our composure on the court.”
Playing in the Big Ten Conference, MSU will is scheduled to face more top opponents. In the Week 1 AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll, there were seven Big Ten teams in the top 25.
While the Spartans will play more ranked opponents — many of which are Big Ten games — George said she is ready for the Spartans to be tested throughout the season.
“My expectation is that we fight, that we work hard, that we take care of details and that we’re disciplined while we play,” George said. “Because we expect a certain level of play. We expect them to go from good to great. They’re very aware of what that’s going to take, and that’s going to take consistency. Consistency comes from discipline and details and taking care of the little things. So our team needs to be able to do because Florida or not, we’re always playing tough competition.”
MSU will travel out to Bowling Green, KY to take part in the Western Kentucky invitational, hosted by No. 17-ranked Western Kentucky. The Spartans will open the weekend against Cincinnati, with the first match set to begin at 4:00 p.m.