Illinois road trip brings Gophers players home

Sarah Mitchell

While Minnesota’s football team celebrated a homecoming victory in the Metrodome on Saturday, three women’s volleyball players celebrated a homecoming on the road.
Freshman defensive specialist Ali Berres, sophomore middle blocker Heather Baxter and sophomore outside hitter Lisa Aschenbrenner all returned to their home state this past weekend as the 24th-ranked Gophers (14-7 overall, 4-6 in the Big Ten) took on No. 18 Illinois.
Berres, who is from Naperville, Ill., could have been sporting orange and navy this season but opted to become a Gopher instead. Minnesota coach Mike Hebert, who coached the Illini for 13 seasons before joining the Gophers program in 1996, had an impact on Berres sacrificing the opportunity to play in front of the hometown crowd.
“I pretty much came here for the coaching staff,” Berres said. “And more or less, the defensive specialist position was open here.”
Baxter, who wasn’t as thrilled to return home because her parents travel to every match, chose Minnesota for similar reasons. The Aurora, Ill., native said she would be playing for Hebert this season, whether it was in Illinois or in Minnesota.
“I liked Mike better than the new coach,” Baxter said. “Now I don’t regret it.”
Unfortunately for the families, the Gophers lost 3-0. But as a consolation, the match did not lack competition.
Berres said the Gophers performed better than expected, making Minnesota’s 3-2 loss to an unranked Purdue team Friday more frustrating.
“We kind of rose to the occasion,” Berres said. “Personally, I didn’t take the (Illinois) loss that hard.”
Rocks and jocks
Hanging out with longtime friends was the theme of Berres’ weekend. On Friday night, Berres had to maintain a fierce composure as her best friend since kindergarten, Christy Case, stood on the Boilermakers side of the net.
“She actually didn’t play that much, but when she did it was hard to not break a face,” Berres said.
The two were teammates for the past seven years. Friday’s competition was the first time Berres and Case stood on opposite sides of the court. When the match ended, the net could no longer separate the two.
“After the match, we just stood there hugging for like five minutes and crying,” Berres said.
Berres’ parents took the two out for a post-match dinner, giving them time to compare first-year experiences. Apparently, Berres is the happier of the two.
Berres said fourth-year Purdue coach Joey Vrazel is the cause of Case’s unhappiness.
“She’s kind of what you would call psycho,” Berres said.
The reason for this accusation? Case told Berres that Vrazel has an unusual coaching style, a more ritualized approach that frequently includes meditation.
Case even recalled a time when Vrazel hired a sports therapist to revive team confidence. The therapist’s technique including using rocks for inspiration. Experiences like this have made Case’s first year a turbulent one.
“She likes the school and stuff,” Berres said. “But the other freshmen on the team want to leave and that makes it harder for her.”