Michigan State volleyball will play in its first home matches this season this weekend, as they host the Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational at Jenison Field House. The Spartans come in on a roll, winning nine matches in a row, including their last 15 sets, going back to their 3-1 win over North Carolina on Sept. 1.
“I think it’s the effort that we’re putting in in practice,” sophomore outside hitter Meredith Norris said. “Every single day we’re coming in and we’re working harder than before. We’re making a lot of physical and mental gains. We’re learning a lot about blocking schemes and defense and applying it to practice and also to the games.”
The tournament features the University at Albany (4-5), University of Alabama-Birmingham (8-3), and Western Michigan University (8-3).
“(I’m) thrilled to be home, and the team is really excited about it,” coach Cathy George said. “A lot of these players have not been in this environment, so it's going to be interesting to see, and we’re looking forward to see the fans and the faces that we know that support us.”
The team lost the first match of the season, on the road at Tennessee, but has gone unbeaten since. Many on the team look at that first game as a galvanizing force for its stellar play since the loss.
“Volleyball is a game of mistakes, and we’re gonna make them,” sophomore libero Jamye Cox said. “I thought when we played Tennessee and we made them we got uptight, whereas now when we’re making mistakes we’re learning that we have each others’ backs. One mistake isn’t gonna lead into two or three.”
George agreed, stating that what has pleased her the most has been the team’s response to moments when opposing teams have gotten them out of their rhythm.
“There’s been a great focus on managing our mistakes and responding,” George said. “You can make it run into five mistakes or you can try to change it immediately, and that’s a real important fact for our team. I don’t think it’s about being young or old, I think it’s about being experienced and showing experience, and showing maturity … I’ve had old teams that don’t respond very well. So, it’s less about that (youth), and it's about your maturity and the way you handle it.”
Sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Chronowski has had a breakout season, as she is getting consistent playing time for the first time in her collegiate career — she played in just six matches last season — and is averaging more than three kills per set.
Chronowski attributes her improvement to her experiences, largely in scout team duty, last season.
“I played an Elite Eight squad every day, even though people didn’t see it, that was experience well enough," she said. "I learned so much from those seniors, and now being able to implement what I’ve learned and … show Michigan State what Alyssa Chronowski is made of, is fun.”
Junior setter Maggie Midgette said one reason the young team — which features only three upperclassmen — has been so successful early on is because players are part of the Spartan family even while being recruited.
“We knew these girls, maybe one or two years in advance,” Midgette said. “Them (freshmen) coming in, it wasn’t us meeting for the first time. We’ve played together, we’ve seen them at camps, they’re not new to us. That first stage of creating chemistry wasn’t very hard for us … We’re all super close. I can take any one of these girls out to lunch, one-on-one, and have no issues.”
Midgette is excited to be home, and is confident in the team's six freshmen’s ability to handle the pressure of their first home matches.
“Six faces are seeing this court for the first time in a home match, and I think they’re really excited, too. As long as we do our thing, I think we’ll be alright.”
The Spartans will play Albany Friday night, Alabama-Birmingham Saturday morning, and close the tournament against Western Michigan Saturday night.