Spikers notch key road sweep over tough foes

The Gophers defeated Ohio State in five games before wiping away Penn State 3-0.

Jeff Barthel

CSTATE COLLEGE, Penn. –

Coming into play over the weekend, Minnesota’s volleyball team faced a difficult task.

After two Big Ten road victories close to home, defeating Iowa and Wisconsin, the Gophers faced two long road trips to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Minnesota was highly successful and fought through those things to come up with victories over both Ohio State and Penn State.

“I’m extremely satisfied,” coach Mike Hebert said. “I was happy with our team mentally playing with purpose and focus.”

The Gophers (13-7, 6-2 Big Ten) squeaked by the Buckeyes (7-8, 1-6) in a five-game affair (20-30, 30-17, 29-31, 30-24, 15-9) Friday.

Saturday night, they came up with a quick disposal (30-28, 30-18, 30-21) of the then-conference-leading No. 11 Lions (17-3, 6-2).

Minnesota is now in a three-way tie for first with Illinois and Penn State.

Taking down the Lions only took one hour and 19 minutes, ending on a Lindsey Taatjes tip for a game-ending, match-clinching kill.

“Coach said if I was open, to go for it,” said Taatjes. “It was a really long rally and I don’t think they were expecting it.”

In game two, Minnesota took control at 14-11 after a Meredith Nelson block had Penn State All-American Cara Smith falling to her knees.

Minutes later, a 16-7 Gophers run had Penn State looking at a 30-18 loss in game two.

The first game of the match, however, looked more interesting with Minnesota and Penn State tying the score with one another 11 times.

This included 25-25 when a couple of kills, courtesy Cassie Busse, helped seal a 30-28 win.

Busse was pleased with her team’s efforts.

“Our coaches had a great game plan and the team followed it well,” Busse said. “Everyone was calm, focused and prepared.”

Busse had a nice performance against the Lions, finishing with a .344 hitting percentage and 15 kills. But she had lots of help from outside hitter Erin Martin’s team leading .636 hitting percentage.

Martin also had 15 kills; she and Busse led the team in that category.

The team also looked dominant as a whole – hitting at a .288 clip while holding the Lions to a meager .106 hitting percentage.

Minnesota’s dominance was not the case the night before. Minnesota took on a Buckeyes team that has struggled but features one special player.

“She’s the best player in the Big Ten,” Hebert said about Ohio State standout Stacey Gordon.

All-American Gordon leads the Big Ten in kills. Entering action before the weekend, Gordon recorded 145 kills on the season, leading Busse by 32.

On Friday, handling Gordon’s laser-quick kill attempts was difficult.

Minnesota’s five-set victory was led by a grueling effort from libero Paula Gentil and her defense of Stacey Gordon’s hot serves.

“She hit the ball, I don’t know, 100 miles per hour,” Gentil said. “It was good to see good defense.”

Gentil led the way for Minnesota with 24 digs on a night when both teams hit sub-par – Minnesota at .081, Ohio State at .075.

The two-hour, 14-minute match was eventually over after a Martin kill put away the Buckeyes for a 15-9 game-five win.

In game four, Minnesota was looking for a win after a tough 31-29 loss in game three.

The game featured several Gordon serve-missiles intercepted by Gentil and returned as Gopher points.

“They made us have to adjust quickly,” Gordon said of Minnesota’s defense. “It seemed that all six (Gophers’ defenders) were camped under my balls sometimes.”

Gentil knocked away a big dig that led to a Taatjes kill, making the score 28-20. The score helped Minnesota seal a 30-24 game four win.

The Buckeyes took game three, but only after Minnesota dealt them a 30-17 loss in game two.

This game featured more of Gordon’s output and more Gophers

defense.

A solo block by Martin at 23-14 prompted solid play by her teammates to win the game after losing game one.

On the match, Minnesota bettered the Buckeyes in both digs (69-60) and blocks (35-29).

To go along with Gentil’s efforts, junior Lisa Reinhart and Taatjes each turned in 12 digs. Nelson led the team with 12 blocks.

“It wasn’t the offense this time,” Nelson said. “We showed how much of a defensive game this can be.”