Volleyball loses to Gators, but plays strong

Jeff Barthel

The score was 28-29; Minnesota’s volleyball team was in the midst of making a comeback and taking game two against No. 3 Florida on Saturday afternoon.

Winning game two at a tournament played in Florida would even the match, after Florida dealt the Gophers a 30-19 setback in the first game.

Team captain Cassie Busse (who led the team in service aces last weekend) was serving for Minnesota at the crucial juncture in game two. The 6-foot-2-inch senior tossed the ball up for one of her powerful jump serves.

Busse delivered a smash that traveled past all Gator defenders and found an open spot on the court.

Unfortunately, her serve traveled a bit too far.

“We were serving aggressively,” coach Mike Hebert said. “The ball just landed a few inches too long.”

The Gators beat the Gophers 30-28 on the service error. Florida went on to sweep Minnesota in straight sets (30-19, 30-28, 30-24).

Despite the team’s difficult setback, the Gophers had some success over the weekend. Friday night the team played Xavier, a team carrying a surprising 5-1 record entering the match.

Minnesota, ranked 20th in the nation, took on the Musketeers in the weekend tournament opener on Friday.

The first game began with the Gophers taking an early 7-2 lead. Xavier then responded by taking seven of the next 11 points and closing to within two of

Minnesota.

However, the Gophers were able to respond with a 7-0 run and go on to take the game by the score of 30-18.

“We had them on their heels the whole match,” Hebert said. “It was a dominating win for us.”

Freshman middle blocker Meredith Nelson agreed with her coach. Nelson finished with nine kills and .571 hitting percentage in the Gophers’ victory. She was reluctant to take much credit in the win, though, praising the performance of her teammate and 2002 All-Big Ten setter, Lindsey Taatjes.

“She really accommodated my needs,” Nelson said. “(Taatjes) did a really nice job getting the balls to us.”

Taatjes, also a team co-captain, finished the match with 44 assists. The Prinsburg, Minn., native lifted her career total in assists to 1,778. Taatjes is fifth all-time in Minnesota volleyball history.

Taatjes contributed to Nelson and also set for Trisha Bratford. The junior outside hitter was also a big key in the sweep of Xavier. The 5-foot-11-inch junior had 13 kills and hit .500.

However, Bratford and the Gophers could not carry over their Friday night effort into Saturday’s marquee match-up against their high-touted host – the Florida Gators – in the championship match of the weekend tournament in Gainesville, Fla.

The Gophers lost to Florida in straight sets, but the coach was not upset.

“We played very competitively,” Hebert said. “Even in the last game, it was 24-24, but (the Gators) ran away with it at the end.”

Hebert might have been right about playing competitively, but the team still lost in straight sets. They did, however, get the chance to see their All-American libero (defensive specialist) take another step toward entering the Gophers record books.

Paula Gentil scrambled for 16 digs on Saturday. The 5-foot-9-inch libero has made 712 digs.

The school record is 1,291 (set by Sharon Oesterling in 1989). Only a sophomore, Gentil has a solid chance to eventually break the record.

“I feel like that’s my job,” Gentil said about going over 700 digs for her career. “I’m not surprised because I’m just doing my job.”

The loss to Florida drops the Gophers to a 3-5 mark. Minnesota is headed in the right direction with another top-ranked competitor next on the schedule.

Hebert and his star libero player (Gentil) hope to bounce back from the setback when they face the Panthers of Northern Iowa this Wednesday in Rochester, Minn.