EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan State volleyball team had their home opener this weekend as they took the floor for three games against Belmont, Syracuse, and Delaware State for the Kathy DeBoer Invitational. Coming off a 1-2 road trip to start the season, this weekend’s tournament was the Spartans’ chance to improve their record to open the season, and they capitalized in a big way, not dropping a single set and bringing in three wins.
It was a back and forth affair in the first set against Belmont. Both sides went on their own scoring runs with neither being able to pull away until the very end when Michigan State scored seven of the last nine points to take the first game 25 to 17. Polish international freshman Karolina Staniszewska made her presence felt from the opening serve, leading the Spartans with 5.5 points scored in the first set along with five kills.
After that final run in the first set, the Spartans took off, scoring six straight points to open the second and ultimately pushing the score to 12-2. This run didn’t last long as Belmont went on a push of their own to pull the game back to 12-7. This run continued until, all of a sudden, the Spartans’ lead had evaporated to a 16-16 tie. During the Belmont 14-4 run, Brooke Gilleland led with four kills on the way to evening the score. The trouble didn’t last long as Michigan State pulled away in the end to take the second set 25-19. Staniszewska stepped up again, adding another five kills to her name along with five points scored for the Spartans.
In the third set, the Spartans again went on another roll to take the early lead. This time it was sophomore Jayhlin Swain showing out with four aces as Michigan State took an early 12-2 lead. They didn’t let Belmont back in it, dominating the scoring to take the final set 25-7 to complete the sweep.
Later on in the day, the Spartans took the floor again to go up against Syracuse in the marquee matchup of the weekend. Michigan State took off right out of the gate, taking an early 8-1 lead thanks to Swain. She picked up right where she left off, scoring two aces in the Spartans’ early run. Syracuse put up a fight in the first set, led by Cherlin Antonio with three kills in the first set, but it was the Spartans who emphatically took the 1-0 advantage by a score of 25-12. New Zealand international freshman Taylah Holdem made her presence felt with six kills and an assist to give her team the advantage.
The second set went much the same. Holdem racked up another four kills, bringing her total to an even ten on the game while sophomore Nil Okur got four of her own en route to a 25-13 win in the second set to put the Spartans at a dominant 2-0 advantage.
The third set of the game was the closest one the Spartans played all day on Saturday. With neither team being able to amass a lead larger than five for the whole set, it was a nail-biter until the end. Syracuse’s German international Greta Schlichter had four kills to help her team stay competitive on the brink of defeat while junior Grace Kelly had four of her own for the Spartans. With a 17-12 lead, Michigan State looked to be on the edge of victory until a Syracuse run tied the game at 20 points each. After an attack error from Holdem gave Syracuse the 24-22 advantage, it looked like the match was going to go to a fourth set until the Spartans racked up four straight clutch points to take home the win and complete a perfect six for six on the day.
The win on the final set of the night marked head coach Leah Johnson’s 200th career victory.
The back-and-forth energy carried into the next day as the Spartans played a tight contest against Delaware State on Sunday. Neither team was able to take control early in the first set as Michigan State found themselves with an uneasy 11-8 lead. That was until the Spartans took control with a 14-5 run including four kills from Holdem and four service aces as a team to take the first set comfortably by a score of 25-13.
It was a similarly tight contest in the second set as Delaware State’s Gerren Tomlin and Kelsie Dawson kept their team close as Michigan State found themselves with a 17-14 lead. Once again, the Spartans pulled away. At one point, junior Nalani Iosia saved a point by diving onto the bench to save the ball from going out of bounds. She went on to pick up an ace for herself as the Spartans went on a 8-2 run from that point on to take a 2-0 set advantage.
In the closest set of the day for the Spartans, Delaware State’s Gerren Tomlin and Ella Sanders picked up three kills each to push Michigan State to the limit, but it wasn’t enough as Okur had three of her own to give her team the 25-21 win in the third set to take the match and complete the perfect weekend.
On the weekend, Holdem was the star of the show for the Spartans, leading the way with 36 kills across the three games. The clean sweep of the weekend gives Michigan State a 4-2 record on the young season.
The Spartans will take the floor next against Duke at the Breslin Center on Friday at 7 p.m.