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Hebert takes Illinois loss in stride

After losing its first match in more than a month last weekend, Minnesota’s volleyball team visits Iowa on Wednesday night looking to recapture the success it found during its 11-match win streak.

The Gophers, who dropped three spots to ninth in this week’s American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, lost in five games to Illinois at the Sports Pavilion last Saturday, ending the fourth-longest streak in school history.

Minnesota coach Mike Hebert identified the team’s main flaw in its loss to Illinois as lacking the passion which has characterized its season thus far.

“If we don’t sustain our energy level throughout the match, we can’t reach out in game five and expect it to be there,” Hebert said. “We have to bring that vibrancy every night.”

The Gophers (18-3, 5-1 Big Ten) trailed by at least three points in every game Saturday, continuing their season-long trend of early-game deficits.

Minnesota has made a habit of coming back this year, erasing a nine-point Wisconsin lead in game two against the Badgers on Oct. 4, and using an eight-point rally in the third game of its match against Michigan State on Sept. 27 to sweep the Spartans.

But against Illinois, Minnesota couldn’t climb out of the hole, and Hebert said the pattern must stop.

“We’ve just been business-like in a lot of matches, and we ran into a team that really wanted to beat us,” Hebert said. “We were teeing ourselves up to get knocked off.”

Iowa notched its first two wins of the Big Ten season last weekend against Illinois and Purdue. The Hawkeyes beat the Illini in four games, a result which has the Gophers taking Iowa (8-8, 2-4) much more seriously than in the past.

Minnesota hosts eighth-ranked Penn State on Friday night, but Hebert said the team hasn’t even discussed the Lions yet.

“Our entire staff meeting was focused on Iowa,” he said. “We can’t afford to look past them, because if they beat Illinois, they’ve got something going.”

And the Hawkeyes might also have timing on their side, as Iowa faces a Minnesota team which is walking wounded.

Middle blockers Bethany Brafford (ankle) and Jessica Byrnes (foot), setter Lindsey Vander Well (shin splints), outside hitter Amanda Cipperly (shoulder) and Paula Gentil (knee) all sat out portions of practice in the last two weeks due to minor injuries.

Hebert said the team scaled back its conditioning to accommodate hobbled players, but added the Gophers “looked gassed” at the end of the Illinois match, which at two hours and 21 minutes was the longest rally-scored match in team history.

But for all the rough edges last Saturday’s loss exposed, Minnesota remains optimistic as its heads for Carver-Hawkeye arena, a place it hasn’t lost since September 1995.

“With such a young team, it’s inevitable to go through nights like last Saturday,” Hebert said. “The important thing is to stay focused on the goals we’ve set. There’s no permanent or pervasive quality to that loss.”

Ben Goessling covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]
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