Rivalries are the heart and soul of collegiate sports. While the players and coaches change over the years, the enmity never dies.
“We look to beat them,” said senior co-captain Shannon Melka who summed up this week”s goal for the Michigan volleyball team (2-2 Big Ten, 5-5 overall) in five words. There will be no compromise in this week”s match versus Michigan State(2-2 , 9-2).
The Wolverines are looking for a win and only a win will do. The first match of the State Pride Series will be played at Cliff Keen Arena at 7 p.m. tonight.
Both teams are off to similarly rocky starts in Big Ten play. Both lost to Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road and both have beaten Iowa and Minnesota at home.
The Spartans, who lead the series 37-22-1, will count on their star senior Erin Hartley, a preseason All-Big Ten selection, to try to secure their first road win. A 6-foot-3 outside hitter, Hartley leads the team with an average of 4.16 kills per game this season. She is also second on the team in digs, averaging just over two digs a game.
Michigan will have to prepare mentally and physically for such a dominant player. The Wolverines should have enough motivation on their own for such a season-defining game. The rivalry generates more incentive to perform than any amount of coaching or practicing ever could.
“That”s a game that you need no motivation for,” coach Mark Rosen said. “You know you are going to go out there and it is going to be a good match.”
The Wolverines have their own star outside hitters who are ready for the match as well. Freshman Jennifer Gandolph has had three consecutive double-doubles over the last two weekends. She along with sophomore Chantel Reedus, who had a career best weekend will provide a potent outside attack against the Spartans.
As always, sophomore Erin Moore will be expected to supply Michigan with instant offense. Moore leads the Wolverines with 128 kills over the season her outstanding play and electrifying kills have made her a fan favorite at Cliff Keen Arena.
Last year, Michigan and Michigan State split the series at one match apiece with both wins coming at home. This year though, the Wolverines want to win at home and in East Lansing.
“Our main goal is to beat them at home, at their place,” Reedus said.
To accomplish such a sweep, Michigan will need to play tough tonight. In an effort to attract a large crowd, the first 300 fans to arrive at the match will receive free Nike water bottles.
Every match for the rest of the season is crucial for the Wolverines, who are now sitting at .500. Michigan cannot allow themselves to become complacent at any point down the road.
“We have to keep the mentality for the rest of the two months of our season that we have to prove ourselves every single game,” Melka said.