KALAMAZOO, Michigan – Michigan State traveled to meet Auburn in the first game of the Western Michigan Tournament on the Broncos’ campus. The Spartans came in on a two-game winning streak after two home sweeps against Oakland and North Carolina. Despite a season-high 47 errors, the Spartans prevailed in four sets, 22-25, 25-17, 25-20 and 25-22.
The Spartans established themselves early in the first set with a 4-0 run. They held onto the lead into the middle of the set. Though they had trouble establishing the front row of their defense as the Tigers were able to send the ball around the waiting arms of the Spartan blockers.
Auburn tied the set at 10 and took the lead up to 13-10 due to sloppy play by MSU, including multiple attack errors and an ace.
The Spartans just could not get back into the set, putting themselves in a huge 20-14 hole with costly serve errors, surrendering a 3-0 run to Auburn before Naya Gros and Biamba Kabengele gave MSU a little energy with back-to-back kills.
Those kills turned into a 6-0 run that tied the set at 20. MSU briefly took a 22-21 lead before the errors caught up to them again, and the Spartans dropped the first set 25-22.
Second set play opened with the teams battling to a 3-3 tie after a fantastic defensive point for the Spartans. Multiple defenders were able to send the ball back while on the ground before Kabengele smashed one into the teeth of the Tiger front.
Both teams stayed even for some time. Auburn continued to take advantage of Spartan errors, particularly on serves.
The Tigers continued to chip away at MSU’s strength in the middle with blocks, going on a 3-0 run with five combined blocks.
Despite this, strong hitting kept the Spartans afloat, and they ripped off their own 4-0 run to get a 21-15 lead, helped by a block and kill from Kabengele. The kill was Kabengele’s seventh, a career high.
MSU kept their foot on the gas from there and Alyssa Chronowski’s kill took the second set for Spartans, 25-17.
Chronowski continued her hot hand into the third set, scoring the Spartans’ first three points. MSU maintained that slight lead early in the set.
This time, Auburn looked like the sloppier team. The Spartans even managed an ace from Lauryn Gibbs to make the score 15-11. Kabengele continued her breakout performance, scoring the next two for MSU.
Then Rebecka Poljan came alive, getting two quick kills and a block to make it 20-13. Despite some tense moments where the errors came back, the Spartans held on, winning 25-20.
MSU jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the fourth, helped by multiple Auburn service errors. Soon after, they went on another run entirely off of more sloppy play by the Tigers that was capped by a hard smash from Poljan.
Auburn looked tired, and the Spartans pounced, taking the lead to 17-9. Kabengele continued her stellar game, earning her 15th kill late in the set to put the Spartans up 20-14.
The Tigers battled back, finding their block again to stuff MSU’s offense. Cathy George was forced to call timeout when Auburn cut the Spartans’ lead to 22-20.
The timeout was exactly what the Spartans needed, getting a lucky kill from Chronowski and a Tiger error to force match point.
After Auburn thwarted the Spartans’ first two tries, Naya Gros finally unloaded a spike that bounced off a Tiger defender for the fourth set win, 25-22.
The Spartans will matchup tonight against IUPUI at 5 p.m., and close the tournament tomorrow against hosts Western Michigan at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Contact Ian Drummond at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @idrumma.