No jinx for volleyball team in spiking Buckeyes

by Brian Stensaas

Forget black cats. Forget walking under ladders. Forget re-naming your boat, breaking mirrors or any of the other Friday the 13th mumbo-jumbo rumored to bring you bad luck.
For the Minnesota volleyball team, Friday night was in no way scary. It was bliss.
On a muggy October night in the sticky Pavilion, Minnesota out-dueled the Buckeyes winning a grueling five-game match 7-15, 15-7, 4-15, 15-7, 15-9.
The eighth-ranked Gophers welcomed undefeated No. 11 Ohio State into the Sports Pavilion and fans got what they paid for: One close volleyball match.
“Ohio State was every bit as good as I thought they would be,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “They’re one well-coached, precise team.”
With the win, Minnesota (18-1, 7-1 Big Ten) moves back into first place in the Big Ten while snapping Ohio State’s 16-match winning streak.
After allowing the Buckeyes (16-1, 6-1) to run their offense with ease in the first game, serving what Hebert described as “lollipops”, the Gophers stormed back in the second.
Nicole Branagh, usually calm and cool on the court, was vocal and fired up during the second stanza.
Her fist pumping and fingers pointing toward the sky in celebration after each of her six kills in the second game, Branagh went on to lead the team with 21 kills for the match.
But perhaps the biggest turnaround for the Gophers came from those who paid to see the match.
With the fourth game knotted at five and Ohio State leading the match 2-1, it looked as though the Buckeyes had touched the ball four times on their side of the court. Each team is allowed just three touches.
Despite argument from Hebert — who earned himself a yellow-card warning in the third game — and the rest of the team, play went on. But not without a little help from the fans.
Each time the ball was placed into Ohio State’s side of the court for the rest of the match, the Pavilion faithful counted to assist the match officials.
“That was special . . . I thought the roof was going to come off,” Hebert said. “This is as good as it has ever been since I’ve been here. It was special that the crowd decided to take on the role of math tutoring.”
Blocking took over from then on. With the crowd on its feet, the Gophers went on to score six of their final 10 points on blocks. Two of those blocks were by the hands of Yvonne VanOort, who finished the match with a career high nine.
As a team, Minnesota finished the match with a season high 19 total team blocks compared to 11 for Ohio State.
The game four win for Minnesota pushed the match to a fifth-game, rally scoring affair. With a point coming on every serve, the excitement of the 3,236 fans was palatable.
Minnesota scored the first point on Lindsey Berg’s eighth kill of the match — tying a career high — and never looked back en route to the match win.
“It’s always great when the fans are behind us,” Branagh said. “They’ve been such a great support for us. When they’re up there dancing and screaming, it gets us fired up on the court.”
Despite her 21 kills, Branagh was double and, at times, triple-teamed the whole match by the Buckeyes. Stephanie Hagen and Charnette Fair were also guarded closely by Ohio State, enabling VanOort and Lisa Aschenbrenner to make an impact. Aschenbrenner finished the match with 10 kills while VanOort chipped in nine.
“If we didn’t get the good hitting game from Yvonne and Lisa, we wouldn’t have won the match,” Hebert said.”
Like it or not, Friday the 13th will go down as a day to remember for Minnesota volleyball, not a day to fear.