Gophers breeze through Duke Invitational

Gophers sophomore outside hitter Tabitha Love at the net last Saturday at the Sports Pavillion.

Mark Vancleave

Gophers sophomore outside hitter Tabitha Love at the net last Saturday at the Sports Pavillion.

Lindsay Guentzel

The road proved to be no obstacle for the No. 12 Gophers, who notched another tournament win this weekend at the Duke Invitational . The team went 3-0 in North Carolina without star senior Lauren Gibbemeyer , losing just one set in three matches. Gibbemeyer injured her wrist in practice last week, and head coach Mike Hebert said her absence was just a precaution and that sheâÄôs considered week-to-week. The Gophers were the only top-15 Big Ten team to make it out of the weekend without a loss, as No. 3 Illinois lost to No. 7 Nebraska in a five-set match, while No. 2 Stanford swept No. 1 Penn State . âÄúRankings really mean nothing,âÄù sophomore Tabitha Love said. âÄúFor us, it makes us really excited to play these teams.âÄù The Gophers started the weekend off with a sweep of North Carolina Central on Friday , a match that showcased the teamâÄôs freshman powerhouses. Ashley Wittman led the team with nine kills, 11 digs and three blocks, while teammate Tori Dixon posted eight kills and seven blocks in her first match as a middle blocker for the Gophers . âÄúIt just shows how mature the freshmen are, that they can hold their own and play at the college level,âÄù junior Jessica Granquist said . The Gophers tried out some new lineups in the tournament, including moving freshman Steffi Sooter to the libero position in her first career start against the Eagles. âÄú[The teamâÄôs flexibility] is definitely a key factor for us,âÄù Sooter said. âÄúThe people that we have can just step up and fill the role of another teammate, which is key for our program.âÄù Sooter had a career-high 15 digs in the Gophers 3-0 win over North Carolina Central . âÄúThis weekend reflects what kind of recruiting class they are,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said of the class, which prepvolleyball.com ranked as the sixth best in the nation. âÄúThey are one of the best weâÄôve ever had at the âÄòU.âÄô âÄù Minnesota started off Saturday by defeating Delaware 3-1 in game two, taking its only loss of the tournament in a 23-25 third set against the Blue Hens . Love had a career-high three service aces against Delaware, tallying 17 kills, six digs and three blocks for the Gophers . âÄúThis weekend was a really strong showing for us,âÄù Love said. âÄúSome people got some playing time that maybe hadnâÄôt seen as much in the previous games, and I think they really stepped up.âÄù The Gophers clinched first place by sweeping Duke in the final match of the tournament. Love added two more service aces for the Gophers, while Wittman led the team with 12 kills, 11 digs and two blocks against the Blue Devils . Love, Wittman and Granquist each earned all-tournament honors in the four-team tournament. âÄúObviously, itâÄôs great to get these little individual awards, but in the big picture, they mean nothing,âÄù Love said. âÄúI was just happy that our team was able to come together. It didnâÄôt matter who was on the court. It shows that we have great depth on the bench.âÄù