Michigan State takes on Rutgers in season finale


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

Ian Drummond, Volleyball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — As Michigan State volleyball looks ahead to its season-ending series against Rutgers, it’s making sure that it leaves no stone unturned.

Against Iowa last week, coach Cathy George enjoyed winning the first game, but she hoped that the Spartans would be able to keep the momentum going into the next day’s rematch. 

“We didn’t sustain our high level long enough during that one,” George said.

This week, the Spartans (3-10) are looking to win both games against the Scarlet Knights (4-14). On Saturday’s finale, they’ll have what the Hawkeyes had last week — the power of Senior Night, which George thought gave Iowa some added motivation.

“They played with a little extra oomph from day one to day two,” she said.

Here are some things I’ll be watching for in this weekend’s matches:

A stoppable force meets an immovable object: Before last week, MSU’s game notes for the matches against Iowa confirmed that freshman outside hitter Sarah Franklin will miss the remainder of the season with the right arm injury she suffered leading up to the series against Wisconsin in late February. Without her, the Spartans’ offense has taken a serious hit, as none of her replacements have been able to replicate her production. Their kills per set in the six games without her is 10.25 compared to 12.04 in the seven games she played in, and their season hitting percentage has dipped to just .156. 

Fortunately for the Spartans, Rutgers has the weakest defense in the Big Ten, allowing the highest hitting percentage from opponents (.277), as well as the most kills and assists from opposing teams. If there’s a series where the Spartans can be at their best offensively without Franklin, it’s this one.

Paying close attention: George specifically mentioned Rutgers setter Inna Balyko as a player to watch out for. Though Rutgers has few players with gaudy statistics this season, Balyko ranks seventh in the conference with 8.89 assists per set, numbers comparable to some players on the conference’s elite squads like Minnesota’s Melani Shaffmaster. 

Michigan State will need to keep a closer eye on the ball than it did against Iowa on Saturday, because the senior from Russia is a capable ball handler and Rutgers’ biggest positional advantage against the Spartans.

Senior send-offs: Last year’s young team had just three graduating seniors, only one of whom was a multi-year starter. This year, the losses are more substantial. This weekend will likely be the final games for outside hitters Alyssa Chronowski, Meredith Norris and Lauren Swartz, all of whom played significantly the past three years. After Franklin’s absence, Chronowski and Norris have handled the bulk of outside hitting duties, much as they did last year. Swartz was a rotational player who excelled using her full 6-foot-5-inch height against smaller opponents, setting up huge blocks. Stalwart libero Jamye Cox, who has anchored the back row since her freshman year in 2017, will also end her Spartan career this weekend. Her replacement will have big shoes to fill next season.

…and my send-off: Unfortunately, I’ll miss Saturday’s match due to a personal conflict, so Friday’s match will be my last time covering MSU volleyball. It’s been a blast to be able to grow as a writer watching one of the coolest, most underrated collegiate sports for the last three years. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading my pieces, and thanks to everyone at WDBM for helping me along the way!