Return home yields two wins

by C.J. Spang

A level above.

That was how Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert described his team’s offensive performance compared with last weekend against Wisconsin.

The Gophers (13-2, 3-1 Big Ten) earned the weekend sweep Friday and Saturday at the Sports Pavilion, as Minnesota downed Michigan State, 30-26, 30-27, 30-21, and Michigan, 30-26, 30-22, 30-25.

In Saturday’s match, the Gophers played solid defense, but it was their offensive numbers that stood out.

Meghan Cumpston tied Minnesota’s season match high with 16 kills, seven of them coming in the third game, and teammate Sarah Florian added 13. It was a highly productive night for the Gophers’ revamped left side.

“That’s by far the best production we’ve had there,” Hebert said. “Both of them showed some veteran maturity in the swings they were taking.”

Up two games to zero, Minnesota looked to be running away with the match, but Michigan made a five-point run in the third game to take the lead 16-15.

Hebert called a time-out to halt the Wolverines’ momentum.

“There was nothing technical that we had to change,” Hebert said. “It was just, ‘Don’t fall asleep on us here, team.’ “

It was definitely a wake-up call for Minnesota, especially Cumpston, as the Gophers pounded out eight of the next 10 points, including five from Cumpston, to take the lead for good.

“My strategy was to hit high and hard because (Michigan) was in front of me every single time,” Cumpston said. “I was just trying my best and trying to be competitive.”

And Hebert noted her exceptional play as well.

“She showed me she has the overall skill set to play a kind of crafty veteran’s game,” Hebert said. “I wasn’t counting (the kills) up, but I knew she was keeping us in the match.”

On Friday, the Gophers came out sluggish and didn’t take the lead in the first game until they rattled off seven of 10 points to pull ahead 18-17.

The Spartans tied the match at 22, but Minnesota was too much and won the game 30-26.

“Our scouting report had no relationship to what they were actually doing,” Hebert said. “Tactically and position-wise, they didn’t look anything like what they looked like on film.”

It didn’t matter what team the Gophers were playing, as their consistent defense controlled the match and out-blocked Michigan State 13-2, while holding them to a .082 hitting percentage.

“Defensively, we’re holding teams to a very low hitting percentage,” Hebert said. “.082 is a pretty miniscule hitting percentage in the Big Ten.”

Florian and Meredith Nelson each had 10 kills to lead Minnesota. Teammate Cumpston added nine kills and tacked on four solo blocks.

Another reason for Minnesota’s solid performance was their home court advantage. It was the Gophers’ first home series in nine matches.

“We love our fans,” senior Jessica Byrnes said. “We’ve been away for a long time, so it was really great to be home and to be with our fans.”