Oct. 3, 2009

EAST LANSING, Mich. - In its first match at home in over a month, the No. 23 Michigan State volleyball team (13-2, 1-2) held off a late surge from No. 12 Illinois, downing the Fighting Illini, 3-2. The win also marked the Spartans' first Big Ten conference win of the season. This was MSU's second upset win of the season, with both matches coming against the 12th-ranked team in the nation, the other being Southern California on Aug. 28. Anchoring the Spartan attack was senior Mischelle Nelson (Naperville, Ill.), who recorded 14 kills while hitting .542.

"It was very nice to be back home tonight with such a great crowd," said head coach Cathy George. "By us coming out strong and earning the first set win really helped in setting the tempo tonight. It was nice to see the girls respond well tonight, after dropping the two matches on the road last weekend."

After finding themselves down, 8-5, early in the first set, MSU responded by tallying 10 straight points, finding itself ahead 15-8. That early lead really allowed the Spartans to use the early momentum to their advantage, as the Fighting Illini ended up taking 11 of the final 20 points. However, MSU was able to put UI away on a kill from redshirt sophomore Jenilee Rathje (Mount Pleasant, Mich.), earning the 25-20 first set win.

The Spartans fell behind early in the second set, trailing Illinois 5-0. MSU rallied to tie the match at 12, before the Illini finally began pulling away from Michigan State, taking the second set, 25-20.

In the third set, no team was able to garner momentum early on. The team were tied seven times throughout the set, including an 18-18 tie forced by a thundering kill from sophomore Kyndra Abron (Livonia, Mich.). However, Illinois remained strong and began pulling away from the Spartans. The Fighting Illini downed MSU in the third set, 25-20. Nelson was hitting a perfect 1.000 (11-11) through three sets.

Looking to avoid their third straight 3-1 loss in a row, the Spartans dug deep and got the early jump on the Illini, 3-0, to begin the set. However, Illinois proved why they were ranked No. 12 in the recent AVCA poll, storming back to tie the set at 13. In a set that saw 12 lead changes or ties, the Spartans proved to have the fan support, after Illinois fought back from as much as a four point deficit, and tie the match at 17. The Spartans stayed strong in the final moments of the set, after facing match point, with the score 25-24, in favor of the Illini. After Abron connected on a kill from sophomore Natalie Emro (Wildwood, Mo.), MSU took the momentum gained and finished off the Fighting Illini 28-26, closing out the fourth set.

In the final set of the match, MSU earned the first three points of the set, before Illinois called its first timeout of the set. Following the timeout, the Spartans took the following two of three points, bringing the score to 5-1. However, Illinois rallied back to tie the match at seven, after Kylie McCulley posted her 18th kill of the night. Following a service error by Laura DeBruler, Michigan State took the following three points, before McCulley's final kill of the night, making it a 11-8 set. But, the Spartans anchored down and finished off Illinois in the fifth set, 15-10.

MSU was led by Emro who quarterbacked the Spartan offense, tallying 51 assists in the win over Illinois. Also, contributing to the win with her stellar defense was junior Allyson Karaba (Muskegon, Mich.), who tallied 24 digs. Also posting a double-digit dig count was sophomore Carli Weiler (Oak Lawn, Ill.). Sophomore Becca Zlabis (Wheaton, Ill.) and Rathje both contributed 12 kills. Emro also led the team with seven blocks on the night, while Nelson posted another five. Senior Vanessa King (Spring Lake, Mich.) made her return to the court, after missing the past three matches due to injury. King tallied two kills along with three blocks.

"It was definitely nice to get Vanessa back in the lineup tonight. She is such a leader and we really count on that senior leadership and guidance. Not having her the past couple of matches really does hurt you, and she was sorely missed," added George.

The Spartans are back in action tomorrow, Oct. 3, when they face Northwestern at 6:30 p.m. Fans are reminded that those who present their Michigan State vs. University of Michigan football ticket from earlier in the day at the door, will receive free admission.