Spikers head to Michigan for two tough conference matches

Jeff Barthel

Traveling to Michigan this weekend will be a trying task for Minnesota’s volleyball team.

The 22nd-ranked Gophers (19-9, 12-4 Big Ten) bring their talents to East Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend to square off against the Spartans (18-8, 10-6) and the Wolverines (17-10, 9-7). Both teams are unranked but have posted solid records this season.

“They might be the number one pair in the conference to go up against,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said.

Michigan State and Michigan are travel partners, meaning the two Big Ten teams are paired up against the same team every weekend.

Minnesota and its traveling partner, Iowa (6-20, 1-15), have 25 combined wins. Michigan State and Michigan have 37 combined wins – the highest combined win total among Big Ten travel companions.

The Gophers lost a pair of matches in Illinois on a road trip two weeks ago – a 3-2 loss to the Illini and a 3-0 loss to Northwestern.

These teams have combined for 35 victories.

“It’s going to be a very difficult road trip,” Hebert said. “We can’t play like we did at Northwestern and have a chance to compete.”

Defeating Minnesota is something Michigan State coach Chuck Erbe wants to accomplish, but he knows it won’t be easy.

“We have to attack better,” Erbe said. “The key for us is to maintain the intensity we played with in game one (earlier this season against Minnesota).”

The Gophers defeated Michigan State at home Oct. 25, losing the first game before winning the next three to take the match.

In that match, Minnesota was led by Cassie Busse’s 30 kills and .591 hitting percentage, leading her team in both categories.

Minnesota also received a .465, 23-kill performance from junior outside hitter Erin Martin.

The 6-foot opposite hitter remembers one particular Michigan State player – 6-foot-2-inch middle blocker Jenny Rood.

“I really like playing against her because she’s the one I’m blocking against up there,” Martin said. “It’s just great to go up there and block a great player like that. I just want to go up there and stuff her a few times,” Martin said.

Rood, a senior, leads her team with a .357 hitting percentage. Michigan State also features a nice complement to Rood at its setter position.

The Spartans’ Nikki Colson has registered a career total of 4,329 assists, the most in Michigan State history.

“She’s been the cornerstone of our program for the four years she’s been here,” Erbe said. “She’s phenomenal, one of the best setters in the nation.”

The 5-foot-10-inch player from Lincoln, Neb., totes a 13.51 assists per game average – second among Big Ten setters.

After dealing with the talented Spartans senior, Minnesota will look to defend a Wolverines’ six-foot middle blocker Erin Moore.

Moore, a senior captain for Michigan, leads her squad with 447 kills and a .303 hitting percentage.