Minnesota hosts Iowa on senior night

by Mark Heise

With the four seniors helping to carry the Minnesota volleyball team through the final weeks of the season, senior night couldn’t come at a better time.

The seniors will be honored at 7 p.m. on Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion, as the 12th-ranked Gophers take on the Hawkeyes in their final home match of the regular season.

Coach Mike Hebert said he was pleased with how the seniors have taken on the responsibility of leading the team.

“The confidence that our seniors are playing with is phenomenal,” he said. “The seniors have taken over the last part of the season and have set the tone for the rest of the team to follow.”

Senior outside hitters Meghan Cumpston and Kelly Bowman, along with middle blocker Meredith Nelson and libero Malama Peniata have been powerhouses for the Gophers in the last month.

Minnesota (20-7 overall, 14-3 Big Ten) has had at least one senior lead the team in blocks in five of the last six matches and in digs in all six. There has only been one match in the Gophers’ last six that hasn’t seen at least two seniors reach double digits in kills.

“I think we’re feeling a lot of confidence now,” Nelson said. “We always talk about getting better in every game and right now we’re doing that. I think this puts us in a great position to finish out the year.”

Minnesota topped Iowa (13-15, 2-14) in three games on the road Oct. 20, adding to the Hawkeyes’ current 1-10 streak.

Junior middle blocker Jessy Jones led the Gophers with 17 kills in that match, and Minnesota held Iowa to less than nine kills per game in the blowout.

Iowa senior middle blocker Jen Barcus was held to just two kills in that match but has been hot for the Hawkeyes as of late, averaging a team-leading 13 kills per match over the past four matches.

Jones talked about not overlooking Iowa but expressed confidence in her team’s constant improvement.

“We’re just trying to be at our best come tournament time and this is just another building block for us,” she said. “We’re getting there, but we can still improve and that’s the great thing about our team.”

With an 18-3 record since their 2-4 start and an 11-1 record at home this season, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why senior night for the Gophers shouldn’t end in success.

But Hebert still expressed caution, saying any Big Ten team could upset another on any given night.

“It would be a mistake for us to begin talking like we’re supposed to win any of our last three matches,” he said. “We just have to prepare for each team separately and keep the focus that we’ve had over the last few matches.”