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Michigan invades East Lansing, stuns Michigan State

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By John Kopko, For the Daily
Published October 23, 2013

EAST LANSING — The Michigan volleyball team traveled to East Lansing on Wednesday night for a battle with rival Michigan State. Brisk autumn weather and patches of rain did nothing to keep a huge crowd of Spartan fans from packing into Jenison Field House, with lines forming at the gates more than an hour and a half before the first serve.

The atmosphere was electric, and the tension and energy between the two teams demonstrated the usual feelings of animosity so often associated with the in-state rivals. Michigan State used everything it had up its sleeve in order to “Jam Jenison.” The Spartan cheerleaders, band, and mascot all made appearances to fire up the home fans.

A handful of Wolverine band members sat nestled into the upper deck of the arena, rallying the small number of maize-and-blue-clad spectators against deafening cheers from the Michigan State faithful.

Early on, it looked like the visitors bit off more than they could chew deep inside enemy territory.

But none of it ended up mattering, as the Wolverines took down Michigan State in four sets, 20-25, 25-22, 26-24, 32-30.

The Spartans (6-2 Big Ten, 17-3 overall) started the first set strong, capitalizing on an early 6-0 run to take a 13-7 lead. Michigan State’s balanced offensive attack led by senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski put Michigan (3-5, 13-6) on its heels. After stretching the lead to 22-15, the Spartans held off the Wolverines to take the set, 25-20.

Four Michigan State players registered multiple kills in the opening stanza, including three from Wicinski, and two apiece for freshman outside hitter Chloe Reinig and freshman middle blocker Allyssah Fitterer.

The second set featured a rejuvenated Michigan attack. The Spartans fought to a 16-12 lead behind Wicinski and Reinig, but this time the determined Wolverines wouldn’t go away. Led by freshman middle blocker Abby Cole’s five kills, Michigan began to hit back.

After tying the score at 17, the teams traded blows. Michigan State earned a 22-20 lead and looked ready to close out the set and put a firm hold on the match, but a five-point run by the Wolverines gave the set to the visitors.

“We practiced a lot of those pressure situations,” said senior outside hitter Lexi Erwin. “It was just trusting every player to do their job.”

The third set became an all-out war to score points, highlighted by 13 ties and 10 lead changes.

Neither team could build more than a three-point advantage. The set grinded on, the score stayed locked at 20-20 and both teams grappled for an advantage.

A kill by freshman middle blocker Autumn Chirstenson propelled the Spartans to a 24-22 advantage. After a service error brought Michigan within one, a Wicinski attack attempt found a gap in the Wolverine block.

As Michigan State celebrated what it thought was a successful kill, the line judge gestured with his flag, indicating the ball had in fact landed out of bounds. After the Spartans thought they had clinched the third set, a questionable call gave Michigan new life.

Energized by a break in their favor, the Wolverines rallied around senior middle blocker Jennifer Cross to steal the set, 26-24.

“It was huge. This is a two-point conference,” said senior outside hitter Lexi Erwin. “You don’t see teams winning by 10 points.”

Added Michigan coach Mark Rosen: “Early in that third set, we decided as a team that it wasn’t going to be a pretty night.”

As they entered the fourth stanza, little did the Wolverines knew they were entering into a 30-point slugfest that involved 23 tie scores and 11 lead changes.

Much like the third set, neither team could gain more than a three-point lead. The Spartans grabbed a 21-18 lead, but the Wolverines struck back to tie the set, 23-23. After a Wicinski kill to give the Spartans a set point, Erwin answered with a kill of her own.

With the score deadlocked, the two rivals began a series of vicious rallies, but neither team could finish off the other. Michigan State fought off four match points and gave itself two chances to take the set, but Michigan’s attack led by Erwin and senior outside hitter Molly Toon finally overwhelmed the Spartans.

“We just (had) to find a way to win those dirty, grinded-out points,” Rosen said. “I don’t think we played overly well, but in the end of the day we competed well, and that meant a lot. We have to win some that way.”

In the first match against the Spartans of her Michigan career, Cole anchored the Wolverines with a team-high 15 kills.

“It was just another Big Ten game, we don’t want to make anything big of it,” Cole said with a smile. “But it was wild.”