No. 16 Gophers head to Iowa with momentum

by Lindsay Guentzel

Notching two more wins at home this weekend helped the 13-3 Gophers move up one spot to No. 16 in the weekly AVCA rankings. More importantly, though, the victories added a renewed sense of confidence to the Gophers, whose three losses have come in tough five-set matches. âÄúItâÄôs a great confidence booster to have these two wins under our belt and just to reestablish the support we have here [at Minnesota],âÄù sophomore Tabitha Love said. With their Big Ten home opener successfully behind them, the Gophers hit the road to take on unranked Iowa on Wednesday. While IowaâÄôs 7-6 record shouldnâÄôt be a major concern for the strong Gophers team, head coach Mike Hebert isnâÄôt taking any chances. âÄúWe are under no illusion,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúIf [the Hawkeyes] get it together, they can play at a high level.âÄù Currently 1-3 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes have faced the same opponents as the Gophers âÄî losing to No. 18 Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue while notching a win against Indiana. The Gophers have lost only to Michigan, although Hebert said the teamâÄôs play was a bit sluggish during SundayâÄôs 3-0 win over Indiana. âÄúI hope we can play with a focus and an intensity that we were missing against Indiana,âÄù he said. âÄú[TuesdayâÄôs practice] is going to be trying to rehearse our defense against the Iowa offense patterns.âÄù One aspect Hebert doesnâÄôt have to be concerned about is his strong freshmen class, led by Gatorade National Player of the Year Ashley Wittman. âÄú[The freshmen] have been doing fabulous,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt have any concerns there.âÄù Wittman had 26 kills, 23 digs and 13 blocks for the Gophers over the weekend, while freshman Tori Dixon contributed 19 kills and three solo blocks on her own. âÄúWeâÄôve been attacking fairly well,âÄù he said. âÄúOur concern has been our serving and our passing. WeâÄôve been up and down.âÄù While Hebert sees areas of improvement within the young squad, the Gophers are garnering weekly attention within the competitive Big Ten conference. For the second time this season, junior libero Jessica Granquist was named Defensive Player of the Week âÄî marking the seventh conference accolade the Gopher squad has received this season. Both Love and Wittman have received Big Ten Player of the Week, with Wittman taking home three Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors as well. âÄúItâÄôs cool to get them and know that people are seeing what IâÄôm doing and know that IâÄôm trying to do my best on the court,âÄù Wittman said. âÄúBut IâÄôd definitely rather have a win over that.âÄù