Nov. 26, 2008
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The 2008 Michigan State volleyball squad (14-15, 6-12 Big Ten) will return home to Jenison Field House to close out the regular season against Iowa (14-16, 6-12) on Friday and No. 12 Minnesota (24-6, 14-4) on Saturday. Both matches are slated for 6:30 p.m. starts. During Saturday's match against Minnesota, MSU will honor its lone senior, Heather McDaniel (Madison Heights, Mich.), during senior day festivities. The Spartans dropped matches to both teams on the road back in October.
The Spartans are in need of two wins this weekend to become eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Two wins would put the Spartans at 8-12 in Big Ten play, giving them at least a share of sixth place in the conference if Indiana losses two matches. With a share of sixth-place, MSU would receive strong consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid which would be the teams' third berth in as many seasons. The NCAA selection show will air on Sunday on ESPNU.
"If we don't win both matches, we don't even have a sniff at it and it is important to even be considered" said head coach Cathy George. "We need to win to be put in that position so we need to go in aggressively. Whether or not we get the bid, I think it is really important for us to go after this and put ourselves in a position to be over .500. That would be a real positive for the program and a great way to finish the program."
The tournament is not the only thing to keep an eye on this weekend. Sophomore libero Allyson Karaba (Muskegon, Mich.) needs only 17 digs in this weekend's matches to move into second on the MSU all-time single-season digs list. At 479, Karaba currently stands alone in third, trailing only Nicole Colaluca who holds the top two spots. At 4.35 digs per set, Karaba currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
The Spartans will look to rebound from a heartbreaking loss last weekend at Illinois. After taking the No. 16 Illini to the brink, the Spartans lost the match, dropping the fifth set, 15-12. In that match, five Spartans set career-bests. Freshman setter Natalie Emro (Wildwood, Mo.) passed out 60 assists, six better than her previous mark, set on three different occasions in 2008. Two Spartans, Becca Zlabis (Wheaton, Ill.) and McDaniel, set career-best dig marks, collecting 17 and 16, respectively. Junior middle hitter Mischelle Nelson (Naperville, Ill.) posted 10 kills, tying her career-best mark. Most impressive was the performance of junior Vanessa King (Spring Lake, Mich.). King notched a career-best 20 kills while hitting .500 to lead the Spartans through most of the match. By the end of the fourth set, King had 18 kills and no errors.
King is another Spartan making a climb through the single-season record books. Currently hitting a clip of .362, King ranks fourth on the all-time list. If King finishes the season hitting better than .341, she will retain that spot. Her .312 career hitting percentage ranks her third on the all-time list behind Angela Morley who hit .314 from 1999-2002. King has also led the Spartans in kills during 11 of the team's 29 matches and has compiled a team-best 307 in 2008.
Zlabis is another Spartan to watch in the final weekend of play. From the outside this season, Zlabis has been a versatile option for MSU all season. Tallying 266 kills, she ranks seventh all-time amongst MSU freshmen. Zlabis needs 31 kills this weekend to move into fifth place. Her 784 attacks also rank her amongst the top Spartan freshmen as she stands in fifth. Emro also ranks amongst the MSU freshmen assist leaders, passing out 1,157 this season, placing her fourth.
The Hawkeyes topped the Spartans 3-1 in Iowa City back in October, but since that point they have lost nine of their last 11 matches. Similar to the Spartans, Iowa opened Big Ten play with two wins in the opening weekend of play, but have since only won four Big Ten matches. At 6-12 in the conference, Iowa is one of the teams that are making a run at the sixth-place spot in the Big Ten.
As a team, Iowa is hitting .201 and have allowed opponents to hit .220. Two Hawkeye attackers, Catherine Smale and Megan Schipper, have at least 300 kills this season, but neither is hitting better than .215 from the outside. Both Schipper and Smale have put up big numbers defensively to go along with their offensive numbers. Smale is averaging 2.38 digs per set while Schipper is posting 1.97 per set. MSU leads the all-time series with Iowa, 30-23.
Minnesota, at 14-4, comes into the week holding sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, behind only defending national champion, Penn State. Minnesota is riding a six-match winning-streak after defeating both Michigan and Ohio State at home last weekend.
Minnesota is led by a trio of players that rank as some of the nation's elite, highlighted by middle hitter Lauren Gibbemeyer, who is hitting .328 with 348 kills. Aside from Gibbemeyer, much of the Gopher offense runs through outside hitter Brook Dieter. Dieter leads the team with 367 kills. Gibbemeyer and Dieter rank first and second on the team in blocks as well. Libero Christine Tan rounds out the trio as she is averaging 5.08 digs per set.
Live audio/video featuring the voice of the Spartans John Kreger can be found at www.msuspartans.com along with a link to live statistics for both matches.