EAST LANSING – Coming into the annual “Jam Jenison” event against Michigan on Wednesday, it wouldn’t have been too hard to compare both squads to their football counterparts based on their recent results.
Michigan came in ranked, sitting in the upper half of the Big Ten and had previously beaten Michigan State earlier in the month. For the Spartans, they were coming in struggling, having lost eight of their last nine matches, not being able to finish against the top of the conference. Sounds familiar in a few ways, doesn’t it?
On this night, however, Michigan State played every bit like they were Michigan’s equals, featuring 20 lead changes in a game where each team was matching every haymaker thrown in what turned out to be every bit a heavyweight battle. But, despite holding a 2-1 set lead, Michigan State couldn’t put Michigan away, and ended up losing in five sets, 3-2.
“I thought we really played aggressive, both teams did,” said Michigan State head coach Cathy George. “It’s a typical brawl, and I thought we fought all the way through. There were big plays at big times, and I thought it could have gone either way, but the ball just didn’t bounce our way at the very end.”
The Spartans had their chances throughout, holding a 18-16 lead in the first set before Michigan went on a seven point run and ended up winning the first set 25-19. Michigan State would rebound however by taking both the second and third sets, with Freshman Emma Monks and Biamba Kabengele leading the way in the second with four kills each, while Sophomore Molly Johnson led the way in the third with five of her career-high ten kills.
Monks felt after the game that the team showed its ability to be great despite the outcome.
“We were able to learn a lot from this one,” said Monks. “I think we’ve all gotten together and really realized that we’re great and we’re on the cusp of being great and we’re right there.”
Being on the “cusp” of greatness, though, can imply that there’s still work to be done before that level is reached. Michigan State showed that when after taking a two set lead, they couldn’t put Michigan away, at one point falling 18-10 before losing the set 25-15.
It also showed in the closing moments of the game, when Michigan committed a service error that tied the game, Michigan State would give the point right back with a service error of their own, setting up the final kill by Michigan’s May Pertofsky, who would finish with a game-high 18 kills.
Monks said that eliminating these kinds of errors are what they’ll need to do in order to get over the hump.
“I think it’s still just getting more reps in and trusting each other on the court,” said Monks. “It’s also just limiting our errors, and I thought we let a few too many errors go in this game.”
It may still take time for the Spartans to learn to get past these mistakes and reach the next level. But, if there’s one thing that everyone in Jenison Fieldhouse learned from this game, it’s that despite the mistakes, this team won’t quit and will fight to the bitter end.
“I think we’ve slowly been getting better and better, and that’s really important for us is to continue to progress and see improvements,” said George.
“They stayed the course when we were in the fifth set and instead of giving up when we were down we fought back to tie it and get ourselves in a position to win. I thought those kinds of things are character traits and we want to keep encouraging that fight and that grit to do things that you’re going to need to do in the Big Ten.”
Michigan State will now look to break its three-game losing streak on Sunday at Indiana, while Michigan will also be on the road in a ranked matchup with No. 17 Purdue on Saturday.
Contact Darin Baydoun at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @BaydounDarin.