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Michigan State volleyball survives late run from Rutgers for a 3-1 victory

October 2, 2023
<p>Michigan State Volleyball players Sr. Nalani Iosia (1), So. Grace Kelly (16), Jr. Julia Bishop (25), Amani Mcarthur (19) and Fr. Makyla Clayton (5) celebrate during their game against Rutgers on Oct. 1, 2023 in East Lansing. Michigan State would go on to win in four sets in the Jack Breslin Student Events Center.</p>

Michigan State Volleyball players Sr. Nalani Iosia (1), So. Grace Kelly (16), Jr. Julia Bishop (25), Amani Mcarthur (19) and Fr. Makyla Clayton (5) celebrate during their game against Rutgers on Oct. 1, 2023 in East Lansing. Michigan State would go on to win in four sets in the Jack Breslin Student Events Center.

Photo by Henry Szymecko | The State News

The Michigan State volleyball team pulled out a great win over Big Ten competitor Rutgers, but only after allowing the Scarlet Knights to steal one set from under their noses to start the match. However, the Spartans looked dominant for the final three sets as they defeated the Scarlet Knights for a 3-1 victory.

The Spartans got on the board quickly with the first point of the match, but the Scarlet Knights responded immediately, scoring and tying the set. From that moment until nearly the middle of the first set, there was a back-and-forth pattern of scoring until MSU was able to break away and score three straight points creating a 7-4 lead. 

However, the Scarlet Knights continued to fight their way back into the set, and thanks to a couple of extra errors from the Spartans, they were able to tie up the score for the seventh time at 14-14. 

Rutgers sophomore outside hitter Bekah Williams followed the tie with an ace to give the Scarlet Knights their first lead of the set, and although MSU would be able to tie it once more, the Spartans were not be able to regain their lead and ultimately dropped the first set 25-19. 

Michigan State head coach Leah Johnson said after the game that the team started flat for the first set, and that team errors were the main source of Rutgers' points in the first set. 

“I thought we started flat. I think we weren’t quite as in tune with the speed of their offense as we thought we may have been. We also served poorly. We gave them 15 of their points in set one through serving errors and violations,” Johnson said.

The second set started much better for the Spartans, as they only allowed the score to be tied once at 3-3, and didn't allow a single lead change the entire set. At one point the Spartans went on a 5-0 run and totaled up 16 kills to cruise by in the second set, winning 25-17. 

The Scarlet Knights started the third set off hot after fifth-year setter Alyssa Nayar scored an ace to take the early 1-0 lead, followed up with another attack error from the Spartans. The Scarlet Knights quickly went up 2-0. 

However, the Spartans were able to quickly respond and tie the game at 2-2 before creating the only lead change of the set. Freshman setter Cameron Berger responded with an ace to extend the Spartan lead. Shortly after, sophomore middle blocker Nil Okur got an ace of her own to help boost the Spartans’ run as they took the third set 25-19. 

Rutgers once again started the fourth set strong going up 3-0 early on the Spartans, but once again MSU answered back. Junior outside hitter Grace Kelly started the spark with back-to-back scores to even the score at 3-3. 

MSU soon took a lead after scoring four straight times, and for most of the match, it seemed that the Spartans were in the driver's seat. At one point, the Spartans held a confident lead of 20-12, and it seemed the end was near. 

That was until senior middle blocker Kristina Grkovic scored three straight points for the Scarlet Knights, fueling a five-point run that brought the Scarlet Knights within three points at 20-17. 

Coach Johnson spoke about Grkovic’s performance after the game, giving her a great deal of credit. 

“I thought she played very well. She was finding the floor and moving around really well, so she was hard to defend, and I think she kept the pressure on. I give her a lot of credit,” Johnson said.

The Spartans were desperately trying to finish this match, but the wall created at the net by the Scarlet Knights just wouldn’t allow it. Rutgers began to push even closer towards stealing another set, as redshirt sophomore middle defender/right-side hitter Rikki Williams got her second block of the set. 

The Spartans continued to struggle to score the match point, so Coach Johnson decided to call a timeout and talk to her team about being in this situation before and how this was their opportunity to finish it. 

And they did. 

Aliyah Moore, who at this point was playing aggressively with 13 kills, got her final kill of the night for final point of the match. The Spartans won the final match with a nail-biting score of 25-23

After the game, Johnson talked about what she and her team spoke about in that final timeout. 

“We talked about how we’ve been in set four and had the lead and been up two sets to one in every match we’ve played in conference, and that this is our moment to figure it out. And we did,” Johnson said. 

It was a team effort for the Spartans, as multiple players were in the double digits for both points and assists. 

Moore, freshman outside hitter Taylah Holdem, and fifth-year middle blocker Amani McArthur all had strong offensive games. Moore had a total of 15.0 points scored, 14 kills, and a .321 hitting %. Holdem had a game-high 18.5 points scored for the Spartans along with 14 kills and 11 digs. 

McArthur had a near double-double with 16.0 points scored, 10 kills and eight blocks. She held it down on both sides of the ball for the Spartans. 

Julia Bishop was able to move the ball around for the Spartans the entire game racking up 25 assists. Berger also performed very well as the setter, as she totaled 10 assists. 

The Spartans move to 11-4 on the year and 3-1 in the Big Ten. 

Michigan State’s next match will be played on Friday, Oct. 6, at 7:00 p.m. inside the Breslin Student Events Center. 

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