EAST LANSING – Michigan State closed its season at home against Indiana. After a 3-0 loss in Bloomington on the Hoosiers’ Senior Night last week, the Spartans returned the favor on their own Senior Night, prevailing in four sets, 25-18, 25-18, 20-25 and 25-22.
With seniors Audrey Alford, Samantha McLean and Maggie Midgette graduating, the night was bittersweet for coach Cathy George.
“We wanted to make sure they finished the way they wanted to,” said George. “Our seniors have had a great impact on all our players.”
The match opened with the teams trading the lead back and forth. Though each team had a bout of good hitting, errors would bring them back level.
The score was level at six after Indiana’s Jacqui Armer laid down a nice block on Alyssa Chronowski, but the Spartans found breathing room after that. They took four of the next six thanks to two strong kills from Molly Johnson.
The Hoosiers rallied back to tie it at 11 thanks to strong play from Deyshia Lofton and Kendall Beerman, who took control of the middle. Their luck turned as MSU went on a 6-0 run in which Beerman contributed two attack errors. The Hoosiers never threatened for the rest of the set, as the Spartans maintained a lead of at least five, winning 25-18.
The second set started like the first did with the teams trading points. After that it was all Spartans. After the set was tied at seven, they ripped off a 4-0 run as the Hoosiers destroyed themselves with attack errors.
When the Hoosiers called a timeout to try and stay in the set, MSU stepped on the gas and went on a 6-0 run. Freshman Biamba Kabengele came alive with two kills and a near-block during this period, though she also ended the run with an attack error.
The Spartans dominated up front during this set, ending with two solid plays from its youngest contributors. Freshman middle blocker Emma Monks’ touch play fooled the Indiana defense to force set point, which the Spartans took as a flying Kabengele smashed one off the hands of Hoosier libero Bayli Lebo.
Indiana’s offense continued to struggle against the stout Spartan middle in the third. Three of the first four Spartan points came off blocks from Kabengele, Gros and Johnson. After battling to an 8-5 lead off a hard shot from Alyssa Chronowski, the Spartans watched the lead erode after a pair of 4-0 runs by the Hoosiers.
Emily Fitzner assisted on two of the points and added an ace during the run, and the Spartans called their first timeout of the set down 15-11.
MSU battled back to 17-16 after Kabengele continued her standout performance up front with a kill that bounced off Indiana’s Hayden Huybers. The Hoosiers rebounded with another kill from Huybers that started a 3-0 run and forced another quick MSU timeout.
The Spartans responded with their own run to cut the lead to 20-19. The Hoosiers closed it out from there, winning five of the last six to take the set.
“Starting off the third set, we wanted a strong start,” said Kabengele. “Working together as a unit, using all of our assets to have a good start and get us going. Sometimes things weren’t going our way, times where we didn’t put our full effort in, and that’s why we lost that set.”
The Spartans had another hot start in the fourth, jumping out to a 5-1 lead off an ace by Alford and two kills by Johnson. The Hoosiers rallied to get within one at 8-7, spreading the ball around with kills from three different players.
Then they forgot their shot, spreading the errors around as much as they were spreading the kills before. The Spartan lead increased to 15-10, and it looked like the Hoosiers were done. Though Kabengele committed an error on the next point, Johnson added another kill to keep the lead at five.
Indiana wasn’t done yet. They took seven of the next nine, aided by three kills from Huybers and some costly Spartan errors. Huybers’ third kill tied the set at 18, and the arena was stunned.
The Hoosiers hung around, though they were unable to take the lead. After a disputed call in front of the net, Johnson hit a hard cross-court shot into the hardwood to give MSU the win.
“I thought the focus got better, going back to the game plan and doing what we needed to do,” said George. “We started to chip away and it worked for us.”
After the game, Alford, McLean and Midgette were honored on Jenison Field House’s video board.
“The Spartan Nation is better because they’ve been here,” said George.
Contact Ian Drummond at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @idrumma.