Regular season closes this weekend at Pavilion

Minnesota closes its regular season against Illinois and Purdue.

Robert Mews

There is a lot on the table this Thanksgiving weekend for Minnesota’s volleyball team.

The 17th-ranked Gophers (22-7, 12-6 Big Ten) host a hot Illinois team (15-14, 6-12 Big Ten) Friday and close out the regular season at home against No. 22 Purdue (22-7, 11-7 Big Ten).

Illinois is playing some of its best volleyball as of late. The Illini come to the Sports Pavilion having won their last two matches and boast last week’s Big Ten Players of the Week with senior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter and junior libero Beth Vrdsky.

“I think we have a tiger by the tail,” coach Mike Hebert said. “She’s (VanMeter) just been bombing the ball this year as a senior.”

VanMeter is the consensus star in the Illinois offense. She leads the Big Ten with 5.74 kills per game and Hebert has even said he thinks she might be an All-American this season.

Sophomore middle blocker Jessy Jones said the Gophers defense will be challenged with VanMeter’s “cross-court” hitting style.

“The thing about VanMeter is, we kind of have to change our whole defense to accommodate her,” Jones said.

However, Hebert said, Minnesota will “funnel” balls to its All-American senior libero Paula Gentil.

“It’s going to be a real battle between her (VanMeter) and Paula to see who can win,” Hebert said. “It will be fun to watch.”

Yet junior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston said Purdue will present a bigger challenge for the Gophers defense.

“With Purdue, we have to compensate for the setter throwing the ball over on the second contact,” Cumpston said.

Purdue beat the Gophers earlier this season in West Lafayette, Ind., three games to one, 16-30, 30-24, 30-24, 30-27. Statistically, Minnesota was not dominated in any area of the match.

Jones said she “can’t wait” to play Purdue because the Gophers are more prepared to play the quick set after beating Ohio State.

“They’re just going to be shocked,” Jones said. “We changed our defense a little bit, and we’ve changed how we block them.”

The Boilermakers also have a lot on the line this weekend. They sit in fifth place in the Big Ten and can move up as far as third place if they beat Iowa and Minnesota. They are playing for an NCAA Tournament berth.

“They’re going to be playing for all the marbles,” Hebert said. “Purdue’s coming in, like us, wanting to get a highest seed as they can in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Gophers also have a lot to play for. They are looking to wrap up the regular season at home with a win for its seniors, and the team is also trying to secure a home match for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“There’s a lot riding on this weekend,” Cumpston said. “It’s very important.”