This is a follow-up forum that started with a prematch “Scouting Report” that you can read about here. We will pick one big match every day we run this column, and the big match will always have a scouting report before and a post-match breakdown after. If you’re just interested in the match recap, you can read the recap here.
Initially, we talked about each of the teams’ strengths. Minnesota has youth and size, as was proven in the blocking numbers (Minnesota outblocked Michigan State, 10-6). But most of those blocks came in set three, as they worked up a sizeable lead, 16-7. A tough early schedule helps Minnesota deal with adversity early, as was evidenced by that same third set.
While MSU’s size is also a factor, what really helped is their unique x-factor—-senior leadership. The Spartans were led by multiple seniors, including Brooke Kranda‘s match-high 15 kills, Autumn Bailey adding a double-double with 14 kills and 13 digs, and lefty Holly Toliver added 10 kills, 7 digs and 3 blocks. Only one Gopher was in double-digit kills, which was sophomore opposite Stephanie Samedy with 11. Finally, when up 16-7 in the third, senior leadership helps you go on an 18-6 run to finish the match in a foreign gym.
HOW DID MICHIGAN STATE DO IT?
- Point #1: Serve tough and with pace
With five aces in the first set and countless other hard serves keeping Minnesota out-of-system (Read: Toliver’s tough topspin jump serve), their lightning-quick offense couldn’t muster enough deception. When the service reception is off, offenses become predictable. Samedy’s 4.3 kills per set disappeared in set 1; she had ZERO kills. Alexis Hart‘s 3+ kills per set were reduced to barely two and were mostly nullified by her hitting errors (7-4-29, .103 for Hart).
- Point #2: Hit high seam and deep corner
As stated above, your serve receive dictates what you can do offensively. Michigan State can go just as fast as Minnesota if they are not pushed in serve receive. Autumn Bailey finished set 2 herself with a deep corner attack through Minnesota’s block on a perfect pass from freshman libero Jayme Cox.
Throughout the match, MSU was going for it, errors or no, and Minnesota avoided errors by not “going for it”, so to speak. Minnesota only committed 6 unforced attack errors (12 total, but 6 were blocks by MSU). But without the senior leader to be a go-to when a kill was needed, Minnesota couldn’t finish. Time and time again, angles and corners and spaces in blocks were big enough for a Spartan army to walk through, leading to an efficient .282 attack against #3 Minnesota.
On the flip side, Michigan State avoided the compounded errors that plagued them in their previous loss to Georgia Tech I referenced in the scouting report. 10 unforced hitting errors and 7 missed serves are far more manageable for a coach as strong as Cathy George.
Then again, the Big Ten is a grind of a conference. Nebraska went to Penn State and won this past week. Michigan State gave Wisconsin their first loss of the season, in Madison, no less. Ohio State knocked off Purdue at home for the first time since 2012. Are these upsets? One could argue that it’s just another season in the Big Ten.
But one could also argue that Michigan State’s seniors are here to more than just lead. Here’s a breakdown of the epic 18-6 run to close out the match at Minnesota:
- 7-16: Timeout MSU
- 8-16: Kill Kranda, angle
- 9-16: Block MSU
- 10-16: Block MSU
- 11-16: Kill Toliver, tool
- 12-16: Kill Kranda, backrow tool
- 13-16: Kill Bailey, tip
- 14-16: Kill Bailey, tool
- 15-16: Kill Toliver, free ball (!!!)
- 15-17: Kill Samedy
- 16-17: Kill Toliver, tool off of Martin’s face (!!!)
- 17-17: Kill Bailey, joust (!!!)
- 17-18: Service Error
- 18-18: Kill Toliver, angle
- 18-19: Bailey blocked
- 19-19: Kill Bailey, angle
- 20-19: Block MSU
- 21-19: Ace (!!!)
- 21-20: Kranda blocked
- 22-20: Kill Kranda, tool
- 23-20: Kill Kranda, tool
- 24-20: Hart hitting error
- 24-21: Kill Hart, tool
- 24-22: Kranda blocked
- 25-22: Kill Garvelink
In short, that 18-6 run featured 13 kills and 3 blocks and an ace by Michigan State. There was only one unforced error by Minnesota. Therein lies the proof that going for it in this era of Big Ten volleyball is the only way to play.