Gophers v-ball gets worked at Wisconsin, 3-0

by Tim Klobuchar

The Gophers volleyball team peaked a bit too early against Wisconsin on Wednesday night in Madison, Wisc.
Not that a 6-1 lead in the first game is much of a peak, but in comparison to the rest of the match, that lead must have seemed like Mount Everest.
The No. 9 Badgers quickly dissolved that deficit and went on to a dominating sweep over Minnesota, 20-9, 19-10, 16-10, in a duel for second place in the Big Ten.
The strange scores came courtesy of a modified scoring system used for televised matches. The “television-friendly” format requires the first three games to be timed at eight minutes each. The clock only moves while the ball is in play, so a team can score many more points in a game than the standard 15 needed to win.
The Gophers came into the match with plenty of confidence from an important weekend sweep on the road of Iowa and Illinois.
But the Badgers justified Minnesota coach Mike Hebert’s concerns about depth and height. They overpowered the Gophers with several different players throughout the match, and improved to 14-1 overall, 4-1 in the Big Ten. Minnesota fell to 12-6, 3-2.
The Gophers looked anything but sharp, but the continuous onslaught by Wisconsin would have made it tough for them on any night.
Wisconsin has eight players 6 feet or taller, and that’s what spelled doom for Minnesota.
The Gophers have little depth at offensive positions and have had to rely on 6-3 senior star Katrien DeDecker for a good share of their kills this season. That strategy worked against other teams which don’t have the same assets the Badgers do.
But Wisconsin took advantage of the Gophers’ relative one-sidedness and continually double-teamed DeDecker, who found the Badgers’ blockers as tough to get through as the Berlin Wall — only the Badgers never crumbled.
“We blocked Minnesota very well,” Wisconsin coach John Cook said. “We knew Minnesota relies on DeDecker a lot.”
The height advantage transferred over to offense as well, as various Badgers rained down spikes on Minnesota throughout the match.
Heather Dodaro, Kate Fitzgerald, Amy Lee, and Kelly Kennedy all had a big match for Wisconsin in both blocking and hitting. Kennedy shared the Big Ten Player of the Week honors with Gophers junior setter Becky Bauer this week.