The Gophers voll…

Kristian Pope

The Gophers volleyball team ran into trouble with fog this weekend.
Their heads were in it Friday. And on Sunday morning in Waterloo, Iowa — a stopover en route from Illinois — they were socked in it.
Luckily, that fog lifted.
Minnesota crept back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Iowa in five games Friday. That motivation carried over into an emotional win on Saturday at Illinois as the Gophers swept their weekend road series to improve to 11-5.
“Which is bigger? That’s a tough decision,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said of the two wins. The Gophers revived themselves to beat Iowa 14-16, 13-15, 15-11, 17-15, 15-13.
It was impressive for such a young and depleted Gophers team. But their win over Illinois, where Hebert was making his return after serving as that school’s coach for 13 years, was perhaps even larger.
“Every conference win is coveted,” Hebert said. “We played so poorly against Iowa at times. We had no balance. It was like playing in 5 feet of water.
“It’s as if a fog bank settles over the court. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
But the Gophers did. Junior Sarah Pearman led the comeback charge, collecting 20 kills against Iowa. Senior Katrien DeDecker had 29 kills and 18 digs.
“I can’t tell you how we turned the Iowa game around,” Hebert said. “Pearman led the way. I have a lot of respect for her after that.”
Hebert said Minnesota (3-1 in the Big Ten) carried the effort of beating Iowa with them to Illinois.
Good thing. The emotion of Hebert being back in Illinois easily could have done in the Gophers.
“I tried to downplay it,” Hebert said of the return. “It was very difficult to go back. It was an awkward experience.”
Seeing the boosters was. Seeing the players Hebert recruited was, too. But the winning wasn’t awkward at all.
Minnesota came out strong, winning the first two games 15-8 and 15-3. Illinois (7-5, 2-2) won the third game 15-13, but Minnesota returned the favor in the fourth and deciding game.
“Our team was very motivated to play against Illinois,” Hebert said. “The were energized on Saturday night.”
DeDecker had a huge match at Champaign, Ill. Her 34 kills led the Gophers, and senior Becky Bauer notched 68 assists.
Injuries have slowed the Gophers during the early part of the season. But even the injured players had minutes this weekend.
Sophomore Tara Baynes had 13 kills over the weekend. Tera Fiamengo had 25 kills and 4 digs, while Jane Passer had 32 kills.
With two conference road victories, the Gophers sit in the upper half of the Big Ten standings.
“I’m surprised we’re 3-1,” Hebert said. “But I don’t think we’ve been handed any wins. We’ve played in lots of close games. I’m pleased, but being 3-1 doesn’t guarantee anything.”

FRIDAY’S GAME
GOPHERS 14 13 15 17 15 — 3
Iowa 16 15 11 15 13 — 2

Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 29, Pearman 20, Bauer 14, Passer 18, Fiamengo 13. Digs: DeDecker 18, Passer 16, Pearman 18, Bauer 11, McDonell 6, Baynes 5. Assists: Bauer 77, Passer 4, Pearman 3.

SATURDAY’S GAME
GOPHERS 15 15 13 15 — 3
Illinois 8 13 15 13 — 1

Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 34, Passer 14, Pearman 13, Fiamengo 12, Baynes 8. Digs: DeDecker 14, Pearman 14, Fiamengo 10, Bauer 11. Assists: Bauer 68.