MSU VOLLEYBALL: Spartans Fall In Battle With No. 7 Gophers, 3-1

Michigan State University
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East Lansing, Mich. -- Michigan State dropped its third straight match – all to opponents ranked in the top 10 – when it fell to No. 7 Minnesota, 3-1, at Jenison Field House on Sunday afternoon.

The Spartans, who fell to 13-7 and 4-6 in Big Ten play with the loss, have seen six of their seven losses this season come to teams in the AVCA Top 25, including five of its six losses in Conference play. The Gophers tried to put MSU away with large leads in three of the four sets, but MSU came back to make things tight for Minnesota (15-3, 9-1 Big Ten) in each frame as well.

MSU has dropped three straight matches to No. 8 Penn State, No. 6 Wisconsin, and No. 7 Minnesota, has fallen to Penn State both home and away this year and also dropped a match at No. 6 Nebraska. The Spartans had split each of the first four Big Ten weekends before falling in both matches this weekend, its longest losing streak of the year. MSU’s other two losses came to then- No. 21 Tennessee in pre-conference action and dropped a tough one on the road at Maryland after sweeping the Terps the week prior.

In today’s match, a slow start led to a 15-5 edge for the visitors in the first set, but MSU righted the ship and made a late charge that allowed them to pull within three at 24-21, four times fending off set point before falling 25-21. The second set featured 14 tie scores and six lead changes as the Gophers scored the final six points to turn a 21-19 deficit into a 2-0 match lead with the 25-20 win. The third set was as wild an affair with 11 ties and two lead changes, as MSU gutted out a 28-26 victory. The Spartans fell behind by as many as 10 points in the fourth before battling back within three at 21-18, but the Gophers managed to close it out to earn their ninth Conference victory.

MSU got a balanced attack from its lineup, with five players between eight and 12 kills, led by Alyssa Chronowski’s 12 kills and four blocks (to solo). Rebecka Poljan had 11 kills and hit .381, and freshman Biamba Kabengele finished with 10 kills and two blocks.

For the visitors, middle Regan Pittman led her squad with 19 kills and added five blocks, hitting .484. Alexis Hart had 10 kills and four digs, while Taylor Morgan had six blocks (four solo) and added seven kills, hitting .375.

The Gophers held slight leads in blocks (12-10) and hitting percentage (.207-173), but MSU held the edge in both kills (55-49) and digs (50-45). Minnesota racked up 11 service aces against five errors, while MSU had three aces and eight errors.

The Spartans head back out on the road next week for games at Northwestern and Illinois.

• Alyssa Chronowski had 12 kills, five digs, and four blocks (two solo).
• Rebecka Poljan had 11 kills, hit .381 and added a block.
• Freshman Biamba Kabengele had 10 kills, two blocks, and a pair of digs in her second straight Big Ten start.

“You have to look beyond just the scores to assess how your team performed – I liked the way we responded to adversity today and also how we handled some different situations. We were down by significant margins a couple of times and really fought our way back to make them keep playing. It’s a great sign of our growth, because that hasn’t been the case for us in every match this year. The lessons and growth are important every week, because there is never an off game or an off week. We’re looking forward to getting the next opportunity to show what we learned from this weekend against two teams that are among the nation’s best. “

- Head Coach Cathy George

• Jamye Cox finished with 19 digs and pushed her career total to 1091, moving within 30 digs of the all-time top 10 at Michigan State.
• Freshman Emma Monks had career bests of five kills and tied her career high with four blocks in her second straight start.
• Elena Shklyar had 28 assists and four digs, two shy of her season best in assists. Fellow setter Audrey Alford had 20 assists and seven digs.
• Naya Gros, playing her second game on the outside, tallied eight kills and added four blocks to tie the team best.

• SET ONE: Michigan State fell behind 6-1 on an early Gopher run, and the Spartans called time out to regroup. MSU found its groove and began to play even with the Gophers, and stayed within six at 11-5. Minnesota used a 4-0 run to pull ahead 15-5, and MSU kept chipping away. Even with the Gophers holding a 20-13 edge, MSU remined aggressive and was playing sound defense, not allowing Minnesota to pull ahead even further. Minnesota got to set point at 24-17 after a kill by Stephanie Samedy, but Chronowski fended it off with a big swing off the left side and Norris followed with back-to-back kills that made it 24-21. Regan Pittman finished it off for Minnesota after a Gopher time out, one of her seven kills in the set as Minnesota took a 1-0 match lead. Meredith Norris had four kills for the Spartans, while Alyssa Chronowski had three. Naya Gros had a hand on both MSU blocks, but the Spartans were out-blocked by a 4-2 margin.

• SET TWO: Michigan State carried its mojo into the second set, taking a 5-3 lead, allowing the visitors to take a brief lead at 9-8 and 10-9 but took back over and used a 5-2 run to lead 14-12, with two kills and a block from the freshman Kabengele in the stretch. MSU led 15-13 at the time out after a big block by Gros and Monks, but Minnesota countered with a 3-0 run that temporarily allowed a 16-15 edge; Norris tooled the block to tie things back up at 16’s. With MSU holding a 20-19 edge after a solo stuff by Gros, the Gophers rolled off six straight points to take the set 25-20 and take a 2-0 match lead. Pittman had four kills for the Gophers and added a solo block, while MU got four kills from Kabengele, three from Rebecka Poljan, and two from four other players. The Gophers had a slim .235-.194 lead in hitting percentage, helped by two Spartan errors late in the set that helped the 6-0 run for the visitors that sealed the set victory.

• SET THREE: MSU raced out to a 5-0 lead in the third on three kills and a pair of Gopher errors, forcing the visitors into a time out. MSU;s lead climbed out to 7-1 after a Norris ace, but the Gophers climbed back into it with a kill by Samedy, a McGraw ace, and an MSU error that made it 7-4. The Gophers got within one at 9-8 after an ace by Adanna Rollins and a tool off the block by Pittman, and a Pittman ace tied things up at 10-10. With things tied up at 12, MSU got a kill from Kabengele and a block by Poljan and the freshman around a Gopher error that allowed MSU to pull ahead by three, 15-12. A solo stuff by Morgan Taylor stopped the run, and a 5-2 Minnesota run allowed them to take a 17-16 lead before Gros stopped it with a kill, her seventh. MSU won the race to 20 on a thundering termination by Monks, and back-to-back shots long by the Gophers allowed MSU a 22-19 lead. Samedy and Hart put down consecutive kills for Minnesota to make it 22-21, and then the teams traded points. The teams traded points from 23-all straight through 26-26 (with Chronowski putting down two big kills in that stretch and Gros one); Gros got MSU to 27-26 with a swing from the right side, and then a hitting error for the Gophers gave MSU the set victory, 28-26. Both Gros and Poljan had four kills, as MSU once again distributed its offense and added three blocks (one solo). Pittman had four kills for the visitors, who hit just .111 (14-9-45), MSU hit its match-best .238, putting down 16 kills and committing six errors – four of which were Gopher blocks.

• SET FOUR: The fourth set was a story of early runs - Minnesota ran out to a 6-1 lead that forced the early Spartan timeout, out of which MSU got a pair of kills and a block from Chronowski that made it 7-4. The Gophers countered with a 4-0 run that allowed them to pull ahead 11-4, and MSU got two back on kills from Minnesota errors, and then kept the pressure on as they built to a 10-point edge at 19-9. The Spartans had committed eight errors against just five kills to that point of the set, but kept chipping away – MSU cut it to six on three straight kills by Norris, Kabengele, and Poljan and followed with a block by Chronowski and Poljan that made it 19-13. The Gophers called a time out and got a kill from Pittman right out of the break to win the race to 20, but MSU countered with a 3-0 run – Poljan, Chronowski, and a Gopher error – that pulled MSU within four, 20-15. MSU kept fighting back into it, trimming it to three (21-18). A Claire Sheehan kill and an error by MSU allowed Minnesota to come within two points of a match win, and a kill to the back middle by Shea Rubright got the Gophers to match point. Pittman, who seemingly has had some of her best games of her career against MSU, closed out the match with her third ace of the day to close it out for the visitors. Chronowski had four kills and two big blocks in the fourth set to lead MSU, while both Kabengele and Poljan put up a pair of kills. MSU got over its early error problems to finish with a positive hitting percentage, and Minnesota got four kills from Pittman and three more from Hart in the final frame as the Gophers hit .208.