Gophers focus on improving after losses

by Megan Ryan

For senior outside hitter Katherine Harms, the world seems to freeze when she jumps at the net to spike the ball.

“After I jump, there’s like a split second that seems like slow-mo where you just kind of see everything,” Harms said. “In that split second, you have to decide what’s the best shot for this moment.”

What a hitter doesn’t want to see in that split second — and what Harms and other Gophers volleyball hitters have faced in their past few matches — is two blockers heading in her direction.

Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said it’s important for hitters to change their mindset when they see the double block.

“As soon as you see it as a friend not a foe, then all of a sudden it’s not so bad to get in there and work around the hands a little bit,” McCutcheon said. “But as soon as you back away from the block, I think you end up altering your shot probably more then you need to, and as a result you can end up making some mistakes.”

The No. 14 Gophers will face No. 9 Nebraska and unranked Iowa on Friday and Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.

One of the Cornhuskers’ middle blockers, junior Hayley Thramer, earned the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award Monday for tallying 17 blocks against No. 15 Ohio State and unranked Indiana last weekend.

Unranked Michigan State and Michigan beat the Gophers last weekend — the team’s first back-to-back losses this season.

As a result, the Gophers’ national ranking dropped by four positions, and they relinquished second place in the conference to Nebraska (12-4) by a game. Minnesota is now tied for third with the Buckeyes (11-5).

But Harms said her team doesn’t feel any extra pressure to make up the lost ground.

“Just coming off this last weekend, I think that we have learned a lot about our team,” Harms said. “And instead of thinking about rankings, we’re more just wanting to … be a better team than we were this past weekend.”

Senior middle blocker Dana Knudsen said while the team isn’t trying to overemphasize the Nebraska match, the losses will motivate the Gophers.

“I hope that it lights a little bit of fire under us because I don’t think anybody on this team likes to lose,” Knudsen said. “But I more importantly hope that the lessons are learned. … I think teams with no losses have faced no adversity.”

When Minnesota and Nebraska met a month ago, the Gophers won the first set before losing the next three.

“When we played Nebraska it was pretty close, at least for three sets,” McCutcheon said. “I know in fact that the conference is strong this year. … And the matches that we’ve won, a lot of them have been by pretty small margins. And I think the same probably can be said for Nebraska.”

Iowa, which is 2-14 in the Big Ten, will present a much smaller challenge for the Gophers. But McCutcheon said the Hawkeyes’ record doesn’t make them less competitive.

“If we can have a good match on Friday and keep building on that on Saturday, that’d be great,” McCutcheon said. “But in no way do we see Iowa as a less-important match.”

Minnesota dropped a set at Iowa last month but won in four sets.

“Last weekend showed I don’t think you can take any team for granted,” Knudsen said.