True freshman McKenna Kelsay made her first career appearance at setter.
Oct. 4, 2013
East Lansing, Mich. - After knocking off the top-ranked team in the nation just seven days ago, No. 9 Michigan State proved it belongs in the top 10 by taking down Illinois in the Spartans' Big Ten home opener, 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-17). MSU is one of only three Big Ten teams to remain undefeated in conference play--just three matches into the season--improving to 14-1 (3-0 Big Ten), while Illinois drops to 5-8 (1-2 Big Ten).
"We didn't execute," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "We played hard, but we didn't execute at a high level, and we have to in the Big Ten, especially on the road. Michigan State is a good offensive team. We needed to be really good defensively, and we weren't."
The Illini relied on the depth of their bench in the match, as 13 student-athletes saw action, all of whom played in at least two sets. Junior Liz McMahon had a solid night, hitting .350 with 10 kills, with the rest of the attack balanced around the front line. Outside hitter Jocelynn Birks registered six kills to go along with a team-best eight digs, Morganne Criswell hit .364 with five kills, and Michelle Strizak, making her first career start, had four kills and a block. Freshman middle blockers Katie Stadick and Maddie Mayers had three and two kills, respectively, and Mayers added three block assists.
Sophomore setter Alexis Viliunas, who made her first career appearance in Jenison Field House nearly one year ago, exited in the second set and was replaced by McKenna Kelsay. The true freshman had appeared in two earlier matches as a server, but tonight marked the first chance for the 5-7 first-year to quarterback the Illini offense. And what better place to start than across the court from her older sister Kristen, a senior setter in the Spartans' 6-2 offense.
"She competed hard and did a nice job, especially in that second set," Hambly said of the rookie setter. "She she got a little shaky there too at times, but she played hard."
Kelsay finished the night with 14 assists, an ace and a block, and Viliunas put up 12 assists and two digs.
Senior Jennifer Beltran moved into a tie with Indiana's Caitlin Cox '11 for 13th all-time in Big Ten history, tabbing seven digs for a career mark of 1,885. Freshman Danielle Davis continued to aid the back row, tallying five digs.
On the other side of the net, the elder Kelsay had a solid night, registering 22 assists and eight digs, while starting the night off with a service ace. The Spartans' attack was led by Lauren Wicinski, the reigning AVCA National Player of the Week, who hit .517 with 18 kills and three blocks. Chloe Reinig was extremely efficient, hitting .579 with 12 kills, and Alexis Matthew hit .545 with seven kills and five blocks. Kelsey Kuipers added three block assists, as the Spartans out-stuffed the Illini, 8-5, and out-hit the Orange and Blue .439 to .182 Libero Kori Moster registered a match-high 18 digs to move closer to becoming the Spartans' all-time digs leader in just her junior year.
Kristen Kelsay began the match with an ace off the hands of Beltran, then scored on the next two serves for a quick 3-0 Spartans lead. Strizak slammed the first Illini kill to make it 3-1, but Michigan State pushed right back ahead, 6-1, forcing an Illinois timeout. Dorn and Strizak teamed up for a block on the next point, but the Spartans continued to dominate, cruising to a 25-15 win in the first.
A block by Kuipers and Galloway gave MSU an early 6-4 lead in the second, but back-to-back kills by Strizak tied the score at six. However, the Spartans replied with a 6-0 run to take a 12-6 lead. Coach Hambly made a bunch of personnel switches, bringing in Stadick and Criswell, as well as McKenna Kelsay, who came in for Viliunas for her first career appearance at setter. The subs helped pull the Illini back within three, 15-12, but were unable to come any closer, and three straight MSU points finished out the frame, 25-18.
The third set opened once again with a 3-0 run served out by Kristen Kelsay, but a kill by Criswell and a pair by McMahon brought the Illini back within one, and a Stadick-Kelsay block tied the score at four. Nevertheless, a 5-0 run served up by Moster put MSU on top 9-4, and while Illinois hung tough, the Orange and Blue could not come all the way back, dropping the third and final set, 25-17.
Illinois is back in action live on the Big Ten Network on Saturday, Oct. 5. The Illini will look to turn things around against No. 14 Michigan in Ann Arbor. The last time the two teams met, Illinois defeated Michigan, 3-1, on Illinois' Senior Night, which would prove the last loss for the Wolverines until the 2012 Final Four. Opening serve for Saturday's match is set for 6 p.m. CT.