Everyone at Jenison Fieldhouse got a sense of deja vu tonight as MSU and Rutgers duked it out in another close match. Rutgers once again was able to beat out MSU and win the match, this time in a score of three sets to one.
While MSU only won a single set, of their three-set losses only one of them was decided by more than three points.
MSU came out the gate slow, losing the first set 25-15. While the Spartans played well offensively, they struggled to stop Rutgers from scoring off service aces as Rutgers had nine of them in the first set. Rutgers also began to switch up their attacks, and instead of using only spikes, the Scarlet Knights mixed in a variety of quick shots and dumps over the net that gave them easy points as MSU’s defense was slow to react.
MSU noticeably woke up in the second set, coming out with energy and intensity as they won this time 25-16.
After the set was close early, MSU exploded late and tore off a 7-0 run to give them the set victory. MSU did exactly what Rutgers did to them in the first set, playing aggressive offense not letting the Scarlet Knights return many good balls over the net.
The offense for MSU was the key to this set as Cecilee Max-Brown and Rebecca Poljan reached six kills each. The match was a game of runs, similar to yesterday, and whoever makes a good run at the right time was the team who came out with the edge.
The third set is where the shades of yesterday’s match really showed, as it was neck and neck throughout.
MSU saw themselves down 20-24 as the set wound down. Alyssa Chronowski delivered huge back-to-back kills to put the score at 22-24 Rutgers, but it was too little too late as Rutgers took the set 25-22.
It was no fault of the Spartans’ offense as they had 39 kills at the end of the set, Max-Brown with 10 and Chronowski and Poljan with nine each, but they were still unable to stop Rutgers from scoring repeatedly on serves.
"They pushed us deep they pushed us short they did it all," junior Naya Gros said. "I have to give it to them their serves were fantastic and that's something that we'll continue to work on as we go into next season."
MSU came into the fourth set hungry for a win to keep their winning hopes alive, and Rutgers came in desperate to end the night and secure another win against the Spartans. The fourth set would be another set that would be determined by as little as one swing of momentum.
Once again, the teams played each other tight, answering each other with point after point and MSU seemed to finally figure out how to limit Rutgers from getting service aces.
The game came down to the final points as the score was tied at 24. With the game coming down to a win by two scenarios, the error bug came back to bite MSU as two consecutive attack errors sealed their fate as Rutgers was able to squeak past MSU and take the set 26-24, giving them the final set they needed to end the match victorious.
The Spartans had 54 kills on the day, three more than Rutgers. The trio of Poljan, Chronowski and Max-Brown combined for 35 of those kills. What held the Spartans back was serving. Not only did Rutgers score 17 service aces compared to the MSU’s two, but the Spartans had six service errors. While that is not a huge number, they didn’t have the aces to make up for them as Rutgers did.
With a second straight tough loss, MSU did host their senior night after the game, shifting the focus to celebrating their dedicated seniors instead of keeping their heads down after a loss.
All season head coach Cathy George has preached about how her team has been flexible and ready to go at all times, and this would not have been possible without veteran seniors at the core of their team.
Players like Chronowski, Elena Shklyar, Lauren Swartz and Meredith Norris all stepped into the lineups and made impacts in whatever way they could to help this team stay competitive and not get down during a rough season. The effort that the Spartans displayed, fighting for their seniors to go out on a good note, in many ways said just as much as a win would have.
"I've learned a lot from them and they have taught me a lot that I want to carry on to the team next year," Gros said. "I feel like tonight we played as a team and we left it all on the court."
MSU ends this season on a bittersweet note, but the Spartans look onto next season, taking the adversity of this COVID-adjusted season as a chip on their shoulders to come back even stronger.
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