EAST LANSING, Mich.–The Jenison Fieldhouse crowd overflowed with excitement to see No. 1 Penn State and No. 9 Michigan State battle it out on Wednesday. The Spartans previously lost to them on their turf earlier this season, and now the Nittany Lions defeated the Spartans on their court in four sets: 27-25, 25-19, 25-27, 25-21.
The fans shouted with joy when Spartan hitter, Brooke Kranda, smacked down the ball for the first point of the match. The set heated up quick, both teams determined to be on top. Spartan middle hitter Megan Tompkins widened the gap to 12-9 after two blocks, two kills and one ace. In a matter of six rallies, Tompkins produced five points for Michigan State.
“Brooke Kranda did a great job for us offensively,” coach Cathy George stated. “She was holding the load for us for quite awhile.”
Although the Spartans attacked aggressively, the Nittany Lions were up for the challenge. Pushing back, Penn State’s defense unrelentlessly kept the ball off the floor.
“It was a well fought match, back and forth, back and forth, great match,” George said. “We really didn’t have some of our defense going in game one, even though it was close. I didn’t feel like we were playing defense the way we needed to.”
Big hitters Haleigh Washington and Simone Lee from the Nittany Lions, were too much for the Spartans’ defense. The lead went back and forth until Penn State’s defense shut down MSU’s front line. The Nittany Lions took the set, 27-25.
“I thought we did a pretty decent job on Simone Lee for a while, but she started to get a little bit hot towards the end,” George said. “But you don’t hold people back like that forever.
“Haleigh Washington, she’s having a great year. This is probably her best year of her four. She is a force to be reckoned with. You really have to play full team defense of the entire court when you’re playing against her. You’re not gonna stop her all together, but can you slow her down.”
Headed into the second set with one win under its belt, Penn State had the confidence on its side. They kept the lead the majority of the set. The Spartans failed to defend quick enough to cover the electric hits by the Nittany Lions.
Spartan outside hitter Autumn Bailey tried to boost the morale of the team by leading the offense with four kills, along with Brooke Kranda. But the Spartan seniors’ power was not enough, as Penn State won the set, 25-19.
“The first set got away from us,” Bailey said. “They’re No. 1 in the country so it’s always gonna be a hard fought battle. We were happy with our fight at the end. We didn’t start off strong but throughout the whole match we had a good fight.”
The Spartans felt great pressure coming into the third. They had to win this set to keep playing, but Penn State volleyball would not let up. Simone Lee led the set with seven kills for PSU.
Back and forth the whole set, the two teams traded leads and ties. Michigan State’s defense improved. Bailey led the defense for the Spartans with eight digs. Because of the incredible defense, the Spartans were able to win the hard fought battle: 27-25.
The Nittany Lions came back in the fourth set with tremendous vengeance and a five point streak. The Spartans fell behind quickly, trailing 12-5. Lee was on a hot streak, attacking the ball every chance she got. The Spartans fought as hard as they could, but it wasn’t enough to contain the All-American players at Penn State. The Nittany Lions won the final set 25-21.
“We thought our defensive effort could have been a little bit better,” Spartan team captain Rachel Minarick said. “But we did a good job of fighting. We dug ourselves quite the whole in the fourth set. We were able to come back and tie it up. We were proud of ourselves for that.”
After a tough loss, the Spartans will regroup this week and prepare for Saturday’s match against Northwestern.
“Northwestern’s a great team, we just need to play our best volleyball,” Minarick said. “We’re gonna scout them out this week and just be ready to go in and give effort.”