Following two ACC losses on the road to UNC and Duke last weekend, Michigan State volleyball returned home to the Breslin Center for the Green and White Classic on Sept. 16 and 17, sweeping Oakland, Chicago State and Evansville.
The Spartans are now 9-2 overall on the season and remain undefeated at home.
MSU started off strong in the first match Friday night with a 3-0 victory over Oakland. They held Oakland to under 20 points in all three sets, winning the first 25-14, the second 25-19 and the third 25-14.
The stars of Friday’s show were Evie Doezema with 12 kills and one block, Aliyah Moore with 11 kills and two blocks and Maradith O’Gorman with eight kills, two aces and two blocks.
Doezema said she is blessed with a good amount of playing time and excited to have the experience as a younger member of the team.
“The team has been doing a great job bringing all the younger girls in and making us feel really connected, which I think helps with confidence out on the court,” Doezema said. “Every single one of your teammates is cheering you on and wanting you to get better and it’s just such a great atmosphere.”
Head Coach Leah Johnson said MSU’s victory over Oakland was a great response to a tough weekend on the road.
“I thought we had a lot of urgency and collectively played our style and system of volleyball,” Johnson said. “So that's a great start to kind of reinvigorate.”
After taking the first match against the Golden Grizzlies Friday night, the Spartans came out strong Saturday morning for their faceoff with Chicago State.
Near the end of the third set, the Spartans lost some momentum when graduate student setter Zoe Nunez left the game with a knee injury and did not return.
Over the course of her career, Nunez has collected 4,000 career assists and 1,000 digs. She was honored for her achievements prior to the start of Friday's match.
Sophomore setter Julia Bishop said the team rallied together in the fourth and final set to secure the win in their teammate’s absence.
“We always just think ‘work for her, we want to play for her’ … whoever came in needed to know they had to step up to fill that role,” Bishop said. “I think (freshman setter) Rachel (Muisenga) played really well. She stepped in under pressure … and I think she played a really great game.”
MSU defeated Chicago State in the first two sets of the match 25-19 and 25-17, but the Cougars held on during the third set winning 25-22 and forcing both teams to play a fourth.
Despite Chicago State’s comeback efforts, MSU won the fourth set, defeating the Cougars 25-20 and earning a match victory of 3-1.
Nunez did not play in the third match against the University of Evansville and spent the entire time on the sideline.
Prior to the match-up with Evansville, Johnson said Nunez was “doing a lot better.”
“From what I understand, it’s something that’s happened before and she should come out of it, so fingers crossed,” Johnson said.
Despite the loss of their star setter, the Spartans swept the Purple Aces in the last match and finished the tournament 3-0.
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Sophomore outside hitter Aliyah Moore shined on Saturday putting up a combined 23 kills and three blocks during the first and second matches. Moore said she was proud of her blocking during match three.
She added the team didn’t skip a beat, even though Nunez was missing from the lineup for the first time that weekend.
“Obviously it was unfortunate to have Zoe go out, but keeping her in our minds when we play the next game and knowing that we can do it,” Moore said. “Knowing that we have to move forward and trusting ourselves that we're going to keep pushing through.”
The Spartans face their first Big Ten opponent of the season this week as they travel to Nebraska for a matchup with the Cornhuskers on Friday at 8 p.m. It's the beginning of a four-game road trip with MSU's next home match Oct. 6.
Of the 18 players on the roster, 14 are underclassmen – some have never faced conference opponents before. Johnson said the Big Ten games will be an adjustment, but the Green and White Classic was an opportunity for growth.
“I think it's going to be a whole different level of volleyball that we haven't seen yet, and that our younger athletes are likely going to have to adjust to quickly,” Johnson said. “There's just no way to replicate it, so it's just a matter of getting into it and focusing on us and not our opponent.”
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