Michigan State volleyball suffered two road losses this past weekend to start Big Ten play, being swept by Indiana on Friday and falling 3-1 to rival Michigan on Sunday, but the Spartans must continue their travels for two more road conference games this weekend.
The Spartans struggled in Bloomington Friday, recording a season-high 13 service errors, and hitting a season-low .112. Michigan State Head Coach Cathy George lamented the lack of usage of senior middle blocker Rebecka Poljan, who recorded just four kills and two blocks, while acknowledging the Spartans cannot afford to be over-reliant on their senior talisman as the season wears on.
“Balance is gonna be what you need to win in the Big Ten,” George said. “You can’t do it with one or two people, you have to have, in my mind, probably three to four attackers who can really hold their own against anybody.”
While the performance Friday was dismal, Sunday offered more signs of hope despite the disappointing result to the in-state rival.
“It was a really hard-fought battle,” George said of Sunday’s loss to Michigan in which the Spartans led each set into the twenties before falling by a combined six points. “I think our team let the foot off the pedal towards the end there,” she said, as the Wolverines outhit the Spartans .255 to .176.
Junior outside hitter Biamba Kabengele provided a bright spot for MSU, with five service aces, eight kills, seven digs and two blocks.
“(I am) pleased with our overall play and how we’re really coming together,” George said ahead of the weekend. “I can see things happening that are the sign of being a really good team.”
MSU heads to Iowa’s brand-new Xtream Arena Friday night in what figures to be a good chance at its first conference victory, a tumble with the 2-10 Hawkeyes, before another brutal Big Ten draw, a date with No. 12 Nebraska in Lincoln, on Sunday afternoon.
With the lack of crowds last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a mostly home non-conference slate this season, the young Spartans have yet to truly cut their teeth in difficult road environments, a skill that will once again be tested this weekend.
“We’ve just gotta play quality volleyball and do what we can to make sure we’re creating the environment within our lines to be what we want it to be,” George said.
The Hawkeyes are led offensively by right-side senior Courtney Buzzerio, who more than doubles their next best player in kills, setting the pace with 219 of Iowa’s 582 overall kills on the season. If MSU’s well-rounded defense can limit her production, it looks poised to be in a good spot Friday night.
Sunday is another proposition entirely, as evidenced by MSU’s 2-21-2 all-time record against the Cornhuskers, a national power with five national championships to its name (including two, 2015 and 2017, as members of the Big Ten). Outside hitter Lindsay Krause was honored as the Big Ten Freshman of the Week this past weekend, averaging 3.86 kills per set as the Cornhuskers swept away Northwestern and Iowa. The 8-3 Cornhuskers are led by junior outside hitter Madi Kubik, who boasts 102 kills on the young season.
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