No. 22 Michigan State fell on the road in its season opener on Friday night, dropping a 3-1 decision to host Tennessee (21-25, 25-20, 17-25, 23-25).
The Spartans, who graduated their entire starting rotation from a year ago, showed a lot of grit and determination in its first game with a lineup full of new faces and a team full of new roles. There was matching uncertainty at times from the host team, which returned several veterans but was playing its first match under first-year head coach Eve Rackham. In the end, the veteran team prevailed, scoring the final four points in the fourth set to turn a 23-21 deficit into a 25-23 win and avoid a fifth set.
The jitters were apparent in the opening set for MSU, which showed resilience throughout the match. Despite 25-21 loss in the opening frame, the Spartans battled back for a 25-20 win in the second. While the home team made adjustments and won the third set handily (25-17), MSU remained composed throughout and took a four-point edge in the fourth, but Tennessee battled back to tie it 16-16 with an 8-2 run. MSU went up 23-21 and looked like they had the momentum to close it out, but the Volunteers went on a 4-0 run and secured the 3-1 win.
Sophomore Alyssa Chronowski had an impressive season debut to the tune of 19 kills, hitting .436 and adding four blocks, three digs, and an ace. Freshman Naya Gros posted nine blocks and nine kills in her collegiate debut, while classmate Rebecka Poljan hit .300 with nine kills and a pair of blocks. Freshman setter Elena Shklyar just missed a double-double with 46 assists and nine digs.
Tennessee had three players in double figures – Erica Trieber had 19 kills to share the match best with Chronowski, and also had four blocks. Tessa Grubbs (15 kills) and Lily Felts (11 kills) rounded out the double-figure scorers.
MSU out-blocked their hosts by a 14-5 margin, and had three aces to just one for the Vols. Tennessee hit .226 to MSU’s .182 in the match.
The Spartans wrap up the Tennessee Classic on Saturday with a pair of games. MSU plays Chattanooga at 11 am, then takes on Belmont in the tournament finale at 5:30 pm.
“There were certainly some good things tonight, but there’s also a lot of things that are correctable errors that we are going to look at and address right away. I thought that tonight was certainly a learning experience for us – and I want us to grow from the game, taking both the good things and learning from the errors we made. We’ve been battling some injuries, so there was a chance for all six of our freshmen to see the floor tonight, which will be good for all of them as we move forward. Its a quick turnaround with a pair of matches tomorrow, so we’re going to have to rebound pretty quickly.”
– Head Coach Cathy George
• Alyssa Chronowski led the Spartans with 19 kills, four blocks and hit .436
• Naya Gros posted nine blocks in her collegiate debut and added nine kills
• Elena Shklyar had 46 assists and corralled nine digs, just missing a double-double.
• Sophomore Jamye Cox had a match-high 19 digs, and three others had nine (Shklyar, Meredith Norris, and Samantha McLean).
STATS AND STORYLINES
• The Spartans opened the season with a double-digit blocking performance, recording 14. The season high in a single game for MSU in 2017 was 14, set in the NCAA Tournament against Missouri State.
• The Spartans were without the services of senior captain Maddie Haggerty and 6-6 outside Lauren Swartz.
• Meredith Norris surpassed her career high in digs (9), two better than her season-best of seven in 2017.
• SET ONE: The host Volunteers jumped out 4-2 and held leads as big as five points, but the young lineup more than held its own as it worked through some early snafus. Tennessee middle Erica Trieber was a handful for MSU in the opening frame, hitting .438 and accounting for eight kills, but Chronowski more than held her own on the left side, getting seven terminations of her own in the set. The first game eventually went to the hosts by a 25-21 score, but the confidence was building on the Spartan side.
• SET TWO: The Spartans led wire-to-wire in the second set, keeping their lead between three and four points the entirety of the frame. MSU’s block came alive, as Gros pushed her game total to six, with Johnson right behind with five. Chronowski continued to be a force for the Spartan offense as well, picking up another four kills. With a 22-20 lead for MSU, a touch call went against the Spartans, but after Cathy George challenged the play, it was overturned on replay to make it 23-20. MSU closed it out with a block by Norris and Becka Poljan followed by a Cox ace.
• SET THREE: MSU jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the third, but Tennessee went on a 5-0 run to take the lead. MSU fought back to bring it within 8-7 on a big swing by Norris, but the Vols found an empty spot in the Spartan back row to get the sideout and re-establish a two-point lead. With the set tied at 14-14, the Volunteers opened up a 8-1 run to establish their largest lead of the night at 22-15, and the Spartans called time out. A Poljan kill stopped the Vols run at 23-16, but an MSU hitting error then gave the home team set point. Tennessee extended the match with a hitting error, but Danielle Mahaffey finished it off for the home team for a 25-17 victory to take a 2-1 lead.
• SET FOUR: MSU started hot and held the lead for most of the early part of the set, staking a 14-8 lead for a six-point advantage. The Volunteers used a 9-2 run to turn the deficit into a 17-16 lead, their first of the set, and the Spartans called a time out. It became a point-for-point battle as the Spartans took two-point leads at 21-19 and 23-21, at which point the home team called their second time out. A pair of Spartan errors and two UT kills led to Tennessee’s four-point run to finish off the match, claiming the fourth frame 25-23 and avoiding a fifth set.
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