Blacksburg, Vir. - Taking on their toughest opponent of the early weekend action, the Pacific volleyball team proved their mettle against No. 14 Michigan State as the Tigers dominated the Spartans, 3-0, on Saturday, August 31. The sweep was Pacific's third of the weekend and improved its record to 3-1 on the year while the Spartans fell to 2-1.
Additionally, the win over the ranked Spartans marks the Tigers first win over a ranked opponent since Pacific took down No. 24 Arizona, 3-1, on Sept. 10, 2010 in Reno, Nev. The last time the Tigers took down a top-15 team came back in October of 2004 when Pacific upset No. 8 UC Santa Barbara, 3-0, on the road in conference action.
Set scores for the match were: 25-21, 25-17, 25-23.
"It was a great team win today," said head coach Greg Gibbons. "The setters ran a balanced offense and defensively we were very physical at the net and our diggers were able to set up behind them. We did the little things right and little things made big things happen today."
Using a balanced attack and a solid block at the net, the Tigers were able to put the Spartans on the defensive from the very beginning of the match, unsettling Michigan State and setting themselves up for success. After trading runs at the beginning of the opening set, Pacific took control of the first frame of the afternoon with a 7-2 stretch of scoring the broke a 12-12 tie. During the set-turning run, the Tigers picked up a pair of blocks from the pins and two big kills from senior Jennifer Sanders that put the Spartans in a five-point hole they would not come back from.
Up one set to none, the Tigers did not waste the momentum of the first set victory as they took an early 5-1 lead before blowing the set wide open with an 8-1 run that buried the Spartans. Leading 10-9, the Tigers ran off eight of the next nine points of play with five kills from their pin hitters including a pair from freshman Lexi Elman. In addition to the offense, the Tigers used a pair of blocks from Sanders and freshman Alicja Wilk to stifle any comeback thoughts from Michigan State as Pacific cruised to victory in the set. Overall, the Tigers used four blocks and a .480 hitting clip to put the Spartans on the brink of defeat. Leading the way was senior Megan Birch who posted four kills on five attacks while Elman ended the set with five kills on seven swings.
With the Spartans on the ledge and the Tigers holding control of the match, Pacific made its final push for the upset in set three in which the Tigers continued to press the action at the net to take the win. Despite holding a late three point lead, Pacific saw the Spartans fight back to capture a 23-22 lead as the heavyweight attempted to get off the mat. However, as they had done all match, the Tigers used their blocking to push Michigan State back down for good. The big blocks came from Wilk and junior Gillian Howard as the duo combined for a pair of blocks, including one against All-American Lauren Wicinski with the set hanging in the balance to finish off the sweep.
In total, the Tigers outblocked the Spartans 12.5-to-4.0, building their block with each set from 3.5 in the first to 5.0 in the third. Three Tigers finished the match with six blocks in the scoresheet as Howard, Wilk, and Sanders each finished the afternoon with match best totals. Offensively, Elman, Birch, and sophomore Kat Schulz each posted eight kills in the match with Birch tally a .444 hitting percentage to lead the way. Pacific also got it done behind the service line with six service aces including three from freshman Jessica Diederich.
The Spartans were led by Wicinski and freshman Autumn Christenson as they each posted eight kills in the match. However, the all-american hit just .037 as the Tigers shutdown Wicinski from much of the match. As a team, Michigan State hit just .102 while Pacific posted a .260 hitting percentage.
At the conclusion of the Tigers' match the tournament champion and all-tournament selections had not been decided.
The Tigers will be back in action on Wednesday, Sept. 4 when they travel to Stanford to take on the No. 3 ranked Cardinal. The match is scheduled for 7:00 pm and can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.