Gophers hope to resolve multitude of problems tonight in Iowa

The Hawkeyes boast two players averaging more than three kills a game.

by Robert Mews

A trip to Iowa tonight gives Minnesota’s volleyball team a chance to regroup and start chipping away at the Big Ten standings.

The midweek match between the 18th-ranked Gophers (16-5, 6-4 Big Ten) and Iowa (13-10, 3-7 Big Ten) is rare. However, Minnesota is looking forward to getting over a dismal weekend in which the team lost all six games in two matches.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” junior middle blocker Meredith Nelson said. “I think it will be a good match, especially for us, to just kind of get back on track.”

Iowa sits eighth in the Big Ten standings, but their position is not an indication of their ability to play among the better Big Ten teams.

All three of their wins came on the road, and they took Ohio State this past weekend to a four-game match – something the Gophers were unable to do against the Buckeyes.

“Iowa is still in their honeymoon period with a new coach,” coach Mike Hebert said. “And for that reason, they’re capable of doing anything.”

Even though Minnesota beat Iowa in three games earlier this year at the Sports Pavilion, Hebert said he is “very leery” of the Hawkeyes and their hitting ability.

They have two players with more than three kills a game in sophomore outside hitter Stacy Vitali and freshman outside hitter Catherine Smale. Smale is sixth in the conference with 3.73 kills per game.

“They have two go-to hitters,” Hebert said. “So, they’re a little bit more diversified than last time we played them.”

Hebert said he won’t try to run any new defensive or offensive schemes against Iowa this time around. That will put some pressure on the bum ankle of three-time All-American libero Paula Gentil to play a bigger role.

She recorded 22 digs against Iowa on Oct. 5, but her ankle has limited her role recently – she recorded only 26 digs against Ohio State and Penn State combined.

“It depends if it’s a tough weekend, then it gets a little bit more icky,” Gentil said about the ankle.

She said the injury has been a problem mentally, because she can’t contribute as much. But said it’s just “aches and pains,” and “everybody has them.”

“I think I’ll be fine. Every day in practice it keeps getting better and better,” Gentil said.

Because of injuries and being down lately, Nelson said she looks for the Hawkeyes to compete with the Gophers this time around.

“I think they are really going to look to attack us,” Nelson said.

Attacking is something Iowa didn’t do much last time against Minnesota – the Hawkeyes finished the early October match hitting only .043.

“What we would be looking to do, especially tomorrow night,” Nelson said, “is get back to where we were Ö and kind of grow from there.”