Gophers upset No. 9 Illinois in five sets

Lindsay Guentzel

All No. 9 Illinois needed was one swift serve on match point in the fourth set to seal a perfect home record for the season. But the Gophers, who have struggled in long, grueling matches, had different plans. Trailing 2-1, they rallied from a 24-20 deficit late in the fourth behind freshman Tori Dixon, who picked up three crucial kills and helped push the Gophers ahead 25-24. They took the set on the next point. âÄúWhen I came into the game, I knew I had to step up a little bit,âÄù Dixon said. âÄúEverything was just in sync for the few points that we had to come back.âÄù Surrounded by a sea of blue and orange on IllinoisâÄô senior night, the Gophers continued their momentum into the fifth, jumping out to a 7-1 lead. âÄúAfter winning that fourth set, we just had so many people step up,âÄù senior Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúWe were all just so excited, and we werenâÄôt going to go down without a fight.âÄù Leading 14-9, a mere point away from a come-from-behind upset, Gibbemeyer and sophomore Mia Tabberson combined on a block to give the Gophers a fifth-set victory, taking the match 25-22, 18-25, 23-25, 26-24 and 15-9. âÄúI was ready to pack up my pencil and paper and accept a tough four-set loss,âÄù said head coach Mike Hebert, who was the head coach at Illinois from 1983 to 1995. âÄúBut lo and behold, our players really braced themselves. We blocked. We served. We dug and we earned every point.âÄù It wasnâÄôt just an upset for the Gophers, who had been waiting for the match after dropping a five-setter to Illinois at home Oct. 22. Besides blemishing a near-perfect home season, the Gophers also snapped a 23-match home winning streak for Illinois. âÄúHaving already lost to them at our home, it was kind of sweet revenge to play them and beat them at their place,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄúComing in and winning meant a lot to us and our program.âÄù After a 3-0 sweep of Wisconsin on Friday, the upset left the Gophers in good position after their last road trip of the season. At 12-6, they are currently tied with Michigan for control of third place in the Big Ten with a two-game lead over fifth-place Purdue. âÄúThe teamâÄôs confidence is at an all-time high,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThey found something together in terms of chemistry that they just didnâÄôt have the opportunity to find before now.âÄù It was the perfect time for the Gophers to take advantage of that opportunity. TheyâÄôll have two more chances to revenge when they host Ohio State and Penn State this weekend, both teams they lost to on the road earlier this season. âÄúWe havenâÄôt been the best on the road,âÄù Dixon said. âÄúBut now that the team is back in sync and weâÄôre all healthy and good now, we should be able to take them at home.âÄù