Still-perfect volleyball team looks to continue streak against Badgers

by Brian Stensaas

The Minnesota volleyball team was able to celebrate last Friday’s pinnacle victory over then-No.11 Penn State for about half an hour.
Despite being the first team (since 1995) to knock off the Lions at home, the team was ushered onto the bus after the match and dropped off at the airport. Bound for Bloomington, Ind. with scouting papers in hand for the Hoosiers, the Gophers had little time to reflect on what they had just done.
And now, after completing the weekend sweep and a week’s worth of practice, the fifth-ranked Gophers face No. 10 Wisconsin on Friday night at the Sports Pavilion.
It will be the first time in Pavilion history two top-10 teams do battle on the court, and Gophers’ coach Mike Hebert refuses to place one ahead of the other.
“We’re two very similar teams,” he said. “I would have to say it’s going to be a toss-up match.”
True, when it comes down to talent, the two teams might be similar. But coming from an emotional standpoint, Minnesota is clearly riding high above the Badgers.
Wisconsin dropped a grueling five-game match to Ohio State last Saturday. The Buckeyes (then No. 19) came back after being down two games to win the final three despite a school-record 37 kills from Badgers outside hitter Sherisa Livingston.
Be careful not to say the name too loudly. Livingston has been a thorn in the Gopher’s side for two years running. But it is not impossible to stop her.
“She’s an animal,” Hebert said. “We haven’t been able to stop her yet, but I think if anyone can slow her down, it’s us. We have the size and the athletic ability to do so.”
Livingston, one of the few players in the Big Ten able to out-jump Minnesota’s Charnette Fair, had the Gophers’ number in the two matches the teams split a year ago. She compiled 27 kills and blocked 12 attempts.
“They’re great,” Minnesota setter Lindsey Berg said. “But for us, being at home is a plus. It’s going to take a total team effort to be successful against them.”
Added outside hitter Nicole Branagh, “It’s going to be a tough match, but it’s going to be a fun match.”
Should Minnesota manage to hold off the Badgers, the team will once again have little time before the papers come out prior to Saturday night’s tilt with Northwestern.
The Wildcats are 1-3 in the conference heading into this weekend, but don’t be fooled. Northwestern’s lone conference victory came Sept. 23 at home to Penn State, ranked third in the nation at the time.
Bumps, sets and spikes
Friday night’s match against Wisconsin will be the first opportunity for couch-potato fans to see the Gophers, live and in color, unless of course they have a black and white TV. MSC will carry the match live starting at 7 p.m. WDGY AM 630 will also carry a live radio broadcast of the match. There is no scheduled broadcast for the Northwestern match.
The largest home crowd of the season is expected for Friday’s tilt between top-ten teams. A showing of near 4,000 is expected.
The first 1,000 fans through the Sports Pavilion gates Friday night will receive a Nicole Branagh wall poster. In addition, anyone named `Nicole’ will be admitted for $3 with a valid ID.

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]