PREVIEW: Michigan State returns to face a predictably excellent Penn State team


Elena Shklyar (12) celebrates after scoring a point/ Photo credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Ian Drummond, Volleyball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — COVID-19 had already impacted Michigan State volleyball’s schedule once when Michigan had to cancel its series on the second week of the season, moving games against Ohio State up one week. 

Three weeks ago, the virus hit the Spartans (2-7) directly, as an outbreak within the team caused series against Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue to be postponed. Now, as the team gets back to practice, it faces No. 12 Penn State (7-5) on Friday and Saturday. Both games are at 6 p.m. 

Though the Nittany Lions’ record looks less than impressive for their ranking, their five losses are to Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota, all top 10 teams this year in the AVCA coaches poll. They head to East Lansing fresh off a pair of 3-0 victories against conference doormat Rutgers this past weekend.

Here are a few things I’ll be watching for at this weekend’s games:

Rest or rust?

At this week’s press conference, MSU coach Cathy George mentioned that the team was working on fundamentals after its extended break. That’s not an encouraging thing to hear a few days before taking on a top-15 team, but it is understandable. Though the team will be playing on fresh legs, there’s a lot of rust for this team to shake off. Don’t expect the same kind of performance the team had in the second game against Wisconsin just yet.

Will Sarah Franklin play?

Freshman outside hitter Sarah Franklin has been the team’s best offensive player this season statistically, still ranking in the top 10 in the Big Ten in kills per set. But she’s been sidelined with a hand injury since the series against Wisconsin a month ago. George has not given a timetable for when Franklin would be able to return, but if she’s back in the lineup, MSU’s offense will get an instant boost.

Discipline in the middle

 The Spartans’ middle blockers have been inconsistent this year, and the team places near the bottom for most defensive stats in the Big Ten rankings. Penn State averages 2.38 blocks per set, good for fifth in the conference. Leading them is 6-foot-4-inch junior middle Kaitlyn Hord, who has 65 blocks this season. Other players, like opposite hitter Jonni Parker and middle blocker Serena Gray, hold their own at the net as well for the Nittany Lions. Naya Gros and Rebecka Poljan will need to be in top form this weekend if the Spartans want to hang around in this upcoming series.