Gophers volleyball no match for Michigan, Michigan State

by Sarah Mitchell

Maybe it’s a lack of confidence, the fatigue factor or just a mid-season slump. However Minnesota’s three-game losing streak is labeled, the Gophers volleyball team finds itself skidding toward the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
The youngest team in the conference suffered its second and third consecutive road defeats this weekend — not to mention its second and third three-game sweeps — at Michigan and Michigan State.
“I think we caught two very hot teams this weekend,” Hebert said. “Now we are in the same position as they were in.”
And that position is an undesirable one. Heading into their matches against the Gophers (12-5 overall, 2-4 in the Big Ten), both teams owned mediocre conference records. Realizing their position, both Michigan and Michigan State pulled the Gophers into the same predicament.
Minnesota had a sluggish start on Saturday, posting a meager .023 attack percentage in the first game. Confronted with a 10-1 deficit, Gophers outside hitter Yvonne Wichert tried to sway the momentum Minnesota’s way with a kill and a pair of service aces that eventually closed the score to 12-9. But unforced errors, which plagued the Gophers at crucial points in both matches, lifted Michigan State (11-3, 4-2) to a 15-10 victory.
“We just broke down,” Hebert said of the hitting errors. “We just played poorly at times and dug ourselves a hole.”
After another poor showing in game two, which the Gophers lost 15-5, roles reversed in game three. Wichert, in what Hebert called “probably her best weekend of the season,” drilled a kill, and with a Spartan hitting error, the Gophers were boosted to a 13-10 lead.
But unlike when the Spartans found themselves in front, Minnesota lost its confidence. Michigan State outside hitter Jenna Wrobel nailed two of her 19 kills and Erin Hartley drilled a kill on match point.
“We just didn’t play very consistently,” Hebert said of the loss. “You can’t just not play consistently on the road and expect to win.”
Friday Funk
Expectations for victory were higher on Friday, as the Gophers played an unranked team in Michigan (10-6, 2-4). But a squandered lead in game one affected Minnesota throughout the rest of the match.
“We tried to get out of it,” freshman setter Lindsey Berg said of the slump leading to the first game loss. “Some people lost some confidence and some people just got scared that we might lose.”
The Wolverines maintained their comeback intensity for the rest of the match. Michigan recorded a .533 hitting percentage in comparison to the Gophers weak .143 en route to a 15-5 game two defeat.
It was the Gophers turn to mount a comeback in game three, facing a six point deficit at 14-8. Wichert smashed six of her 14 match kills, as Minnesota avoided 11 Michigan game points and tied the score at 14. But hitting mistakes proved costly for Minnesota at unaffordable times in the match. Two of Minnesota’s 27 attack errors propelled the Wolverines to a 17-15 victory.
“I think it’s a case, and I rarely say this, of a new group that doesn’t know how to rely on each other yet,” Hebert said. “When we go on the road, teams put the pressure on us in front of the home crowd.”

While the Gophers dropped two Big Ten matches over the weekend, Hebert said, “It’s important for people to keep the big picture in mind.” Hebert was referring to the remainder of the Big Ten schedule, which includes 14 conference matches. Eight of those will be played at the Sports Pavilion, and could give the Gophers a chance to climb back in to the upper division of the Big Ten.
“The season has just begun,” Berg said. “I think we just need to get back into our gym and things will pick up.”
“I think everyone is frustrated,” Hebert said. “I am disappointed, but not demoralized.”