After back-to-back NCAA Tournament sweet sixteen appearances in the most competitive conference in the country, the loss of four seniors to graduation left volleyball coach Cathy George facing one of the toughest things to deal with as a college coach — rebuilding.
The Spartans lost Kristen Kelsay and All-American Alexis Mathews to graduation. Mathews traveled this past winter to participate in the USA Volleyball National Team’s winter training block in Anaheim, Calif. Kelsay was the Detroit Athletic Club 2013 Athlete of the Year and the fifth Spartan to ever earn the honor.
Despite the loss of Mathews, the impact the program has made over the last few years landed them the No. 6 recruiting class for Fall 2014. It is the second year in a row of landing a top ten spot.
George is looking for veteran leadership to step up and fill the loss of a successful senior class. The leadership of All-American Libero Kori Moster, who was recently selected to tour China with USA Volleyball, will be one the key assets for the Spartans this fall alongside four incoming freshman — Rachel Minarick (Naperville, Ill.), Abby Monson (Bunsville, Minn.), Alyssa Garvelink (Holland, Mich.), and Holly Toliver (Berrien Springs, Mich.) to the roster.
Minarick was one of the top setting prospects in the country. The No. 22 senior ace compiled 377 kills, 452 assists, 44 aces, 157 digs and 107 blocks in her high school career. Minarick was a two-time AVCA All-American, giving confidence of having her run the net not only as a setter but also through attacking and blocking the ball.
Monson is said to make an immediate impact as she takes the court as a Spartan. The defensive specialist was a five-year varsity player after making the team as an eighth grader. Monson had a career of 1,510 digs with 528 of them being from her senior season. She is a four-time winner of the Prep Volleyball Defensive Dandy award, alongside her first-team All-State and Honorable Mention All-American awards.
Garvelink was second team AVCA All American as a senior and also ranked at No. 26 senior ace. The 6 foot 3 inch middle blocker has big shoes to fill as Coach George made claim to Garvelink having notable traits of former MSU All-American, Val Sterk. Alyssa is able to attack from all three spots at the net, marking her as one for the rest of the Big Ten to fear.
Toliver had a staggering 984 kills her senior career to prove her impact in front of the net. The left-handed hitter is planned to be seen hitting from the right and left side in her upcoming seasons as a Spartan. Toliver was a Prep Volleyball High Honorable Mention All-American Selection, as was All-State her sophomore, junior, and senior year.
The returning 14 and the upcoming four players leave Michigan State confident to compete full-force against what Coach George refers to as the ‘dogfight’ of Big Ten Volleyball. George has high hopes for how the four Prep Volleyball All-American recruits will blend in to compete against the strong Big Ten competition in the upcoming fall.
Nicole Daniel is the host of Bump, Set, Spike for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jennifer Swanchara