DAYTON, Ohio - For the first time since 2002, the Michigan State volleyball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, topping Kentucky, 3-0 (30-28, 30-23, 30-27) tonight in front of a sold out crowd of 1,846 at the Frericks Center on the University of Dayton campus. The Spartans (20-13) win their 20th match of the season, the most wins since that 2002 season.
Senior Ashley Schatzle (Monroe, Mich./Monroe) led the offensive effort, posting 19 kills, while classmate Katie Johnson (Brooklyn, Mich./Columbia Central) added 15 kills and nine digs. Freshman Jenilee Rathje (Mount Pleasant, Mich./Mount Pleasant) had eight kills on 16 attempts and only one error for a .438 hitting percentage, while sophomore Mischelle Nelson (Naperville, Ill./Nequa Valley) hit .500 and put down seven kills. Freshman Lauren O'Reilly (Langley, British Columbia/Pacific Academy) dished out 40 assists and totaled five blocks (1 BS, 4 BA) and senior Miken Trogdon (Lisle, Ill./Wheaton St. Francis) was the anchor to the Spartans' defense with 10 digs.
In a battle from the first serve, the Spartans came-from-behind to take game one, 30-28. Kentucky opened up 2007 NCAA Tournamaent play by taking the first two points, but the Spartans answered with three of their own to take an early 3-2 lead. The Wildcats kept the early unanswered strings going, by taking the next five points for a 7-3 edge and would follow soon with another consecutive run, this time four, for their biggest lead of the match at 12-6. MSU failed to let the deficit overtake them, as Johnson took control posting kills on three of the next five points to being the Spartans within one (11-12). After some back and forth play, another 5-0 run by the Green and White gave them their first multiple point lead of the night (18-16). It was a punch-counterpunch finish to the game as there was four ties down the stretch, including 28-all. However, kills by Rathje and Johnson ended the opening game. Johnson led the way in the game with five kills.
Michigan State came out with a purpose in game two, taking the first four points (on two kills each by senior Jessica Hohl (Waterville, Ohio/Anthony Wayne) and Schatzle) and eventually opened up a 14-5 advantage, capped off by three-straight Schatzle kills. The Wildcats would try to chip away, but could only get within five (28-23). Kills by Johnson and Nelson put the second game away at 30-23. MSU hit .372 in game two, led by eight kills by Schatzle on 13 attempts with no errors. Johnson and Hohl combined to add nine kills, as O'Reilly dished out 16 assists.
Like game one, the Wildcats took an early lead in game three, forcing the Spartans to come-from-behind again. After a short 2-1 MSU lead, UK ran off seven of the next nine points to open up their largest lead at 8-4. Two Johnson kills helped the Spartans go on a 6-2 spirt of their own to tie the game at nine. From there, there would be four more ties - the last at 17-all - but Schatzle kill gave Michigan State a lead they would not relinquish. Schatzle had five kills down the stretch and Nelson topped it off with a cross-court attack for the 30-27 win. Schatzle and Johnson combined for 12 kills in the final game.
Nicole Britenriker led the Wildcats with 12 kills, while Brooke Bartek had 10 of her own.
The Spartans will face No. 15 Dayton on Saturday, the match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Frericks Center.