Michigan State volleyball took on No. 11 Minnesota on Sunday – its third ranked opponent in a week – following two back-to-back losses to No. 12 Penn State and No. 3 Nebraska.
The Spartans struggled to keep up with the Gophers on their home court during the second half of the match, and Minnesota swept MSU 3-0.
Set one's final score was the closest of the match, but Michigan State still fell to Minnesota by six points, 25-19.
The Spartans scored the first point of the match, but Minnesota quickly took the lead due to three attack errors and one service error from MSU.
MSU rallied toward the end of the set to come within two, 20-18, thanks to two back-to-back kills from sophomore outside hitter Aliyah Moore and an attack error on Minnesota.
Just when it looked as though MSU might make a late-set comeback, attack errors on the Spartans allowed Minnesota to win the set.
Moore led the team in scoring with five kills in set one, while freshman outside hitter Evie Doezema had four of her own.
Freshman outside hitter Maradith O’Gorman had three kills and a block assist alongside senior middle blocker Emma Monks.
Senior setter Zoe Nunez scored MSU’s only ace of the match during set one. The game against Minnesota was Nunez’s first start in three weeks after being out with an injury.
MSU got off to a rough start in set two, as Minnesota took a 5-1 lead right out of the gate.
Kills from freshman middle back Nil Okur and O’Gorman helped MSU cut the gap to two. The Spartans made a few more runs to help lessen Minnesota’s lead, but they ultimately failed to keep up with the Gophers.
Minnesota won the set by 10 points, 25-15.
Okur led the team in scoring for set two with five kills, while Monks had three. O’Gorman added two more kills to her three from set one.
Minnesota dominated MSU at the beginning of set three and never took its foot off the gas, winning the set 25-14 as well as the match.
There were a few late efforts by the Spartans to cut the scoring gap, including a block from Monks and kills by Moore and Doezema, but it wasn’t enough.
Set three leaders were O’Gorman with four kills, and Monks who finished the set with two kills and a block.
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Overall leaders in scoring were O’Gorman with a combined nine kills, Moore with seven and Okur and Doezema with six, respectively.
Nunez led the team in assists with 19, while sophomore setter Julia Bishop had six.
Nunez also finished the match with seven digs, while Moore and junior libero Nalani Iosia had four each. Monks led the team in blocks with three.
MSU walked away with a .161 hitting percentage while Minnesota hit .461. The Spartans also had 19 attack errors to the Gophers eight.
Looking ahead to remaining conference play
Despite the final score, Head Coach Leah Johnson said she was pleased with the way her team implemented changes since its last match on Thursday, including switching to a 6-2 offense.
“Our middles hit for a higher percentage, which they hadn't been, so it helped our middles like we wanted it to,” Johnson said. “We were able to run more offense up the middle of the court … That's the area where we've been scoring the most, so we were able to do that, and we got more points out of that as well.”
Johnson said playing multiple ranked conference opponents in a row has been challenging, but she loves it, even when it gets tough.
“You came to play in the Big Ten and it's going to be a shark tank battle every night,” Johnson said. “Step up – that's what we got to keep doing.”
Even though Johnson is familiar with the level of competition in the Big Ten conference, she said the younger players on her team are not, so she continues to push them to improve.
“I said, ‘Do you want to accept me pushing right now? We're a quarter of the way through the conference, so at what point are you going to push back? Or is this going to be the thing that divides us?” Johnson said. “I don't think it will be, I think it'll be the thing that brings us together, and we start taking more risks faster and we see more rewards.”
The Spartans remain at home this week for a rivalry matchup against the Michigan Wolverines on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Breslin Center, following MSU’s homecoming parade.
Based on what she’s seen from the Wolverines this season, Johnson said she’s hopeful the matchup between the two schools will be competitive, but she’s focused on her own team.
“There's a lot of hope that there’s points to be won and there's a good, competitive volleyball match to be had and enjoyed by our fans,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, it's about the Spartans. ... We'll prepare a scout report, but it's about us getting better and trusting that plan.”
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