East Lansing -- Life couldn't be sweeter for Michigan State senior volleyball player Lauren Wicinski.
Wicinski, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, is playing a key role for the Spartans (13-1, 2-0) who are coming off arguably their best weekend in program history.
MSU moved up to No. 9 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings after ending an 18-match losing streak against Penn State, defeating the No. 1 Nittany Lions in five sets at Happy Valley on Friday, 15-9 in the deciding finale, and then sweeping previously unbeaten Ohio State (13-1) in Columbus on Sunday, 27-25, 25-23, 25-23.
"We knew we had to go in there brave and courageous," said Wicinski of playing at Penn State against a Nittany Lions' program that had won more national championships (three) than suffered home conference losses (one) since 2006. "It was a hostile environment. They pushed us and we pushed back."
Wicinski, a first-team all-conference player and second-team All-American, led the Spartans with 21 kills against Penn State. She added 12 kills in the sweep of Ohio State.
"The match against Ohio State was a test of our character because we had to re-focus after beating Penn State," pointed out Wicinski, who earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors. "It was a great weekend and an overall great confidence booster for all of us."
MSU coach Cathy George received outstanding efforts from numerous players, including Wicinski, senior captain and setter Kristen Kelsay, 6-foot-3 senior middle blocker Alexis Mathews (Detroit Renaissance), 6-4 freshman outside hitter Chloe Reinig and junior outside hitter Taylor Galloway.
Kelsay had 21 assists and 11 digs against Penn State, Galloway 10 kills and nine digs, and Reinig 12 kills in her Big Ten debut. Mathews had nine kills and her 500th career block against the Buckeyes.
"Alexis puts up a massive wall and is a dynamic player offensively," said Wicinski of Mathews. "Chloe (Reinig) has a high volleyball IQ and takes the pressure off other hitters. We have two amazing setters in Kristen Kelsay and Halle Peterson. They're distributing the ball well."
MSU had a strong season last year, advancing to the Sweet 16 before losing to Michigan, which went on to the Final Four.
"We beat UCLA (second-round of the NCAA tournament), but then didn't play well and lost to Michigan," Wicinski said. "That put a fire under us heading into this season.”
The Spartans now have the benefit of playing home at Jenison Fieldhouse the next two weekends, hosting Illinois on Friday and Northwestern on Saturday, then Iowa (Oct. 11) and nationally-ranked Nebraska, Oct. 12.
"We're really looking forward to playing at home the next couple of weekends," Wicinski said. "We feel real comfortable playing there."