Gophers facing tough weekend against top ranked foes at home

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer serves in a game at the Sports Pavilion last year.

Ashley Goetz

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer serves in a game at the Sports Pavilion last year.

After two long weeks of following the Minnesota volleyball teamâÄôs success on the road, fans will finally have a chance to see the revamped Gophers squad. Fans attending MinnesotaâÄôs opening weekend at the Sports Pavilion will see the 11th-ranked Gophers (5-1 overall) face No. 4 California (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) and No. 16 Cal Poly (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.). Minnesota will finish the weekend against Notre Dame on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. âÄúItâÄôs a totally different team from last year, and IâÄôm just excited to show our fans that,âÄù junior libero Christine Tan said. âÄúWeâÄôve put a lot of work in, and weâÄôve fixed a lot of holes we had. IâÄôve been talking the team up a lot, so I guess IâÄôm just excited to show people where weâÄôre at.âÄù âÄúWhere theyâÄôre atâÄù includes a more balanced and efficient offensive attack than last year and improved cohesion in the back row, leading to better defense and a better job receiving serves. Junior right-side hitter Pamela Luiz has stabilized an offense that struggled throughout last season with only two options, helping lead to the GophersâÄô 6.7 percent jump in hitting percentage this season. âÄúItâÄôs really hard for the other team when weâÄôve got three people hitting well,âÄù sophomore Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúIf the block goes to the outside, then Pam or I can kill the ball. ItâÄôs tougher to defend.âÄù Defensively, Minnesota is holding opponents to a .133 hit percentage, while averaging 16 digs and 3 blocks per game. Defense will be important against California, as the Golden Bears have hit .349 this year while sweeping all five of their opponents in three-game matches. California (5-0) has won each game by an average of 7.4 points this season, blowing out most of its competition. However, none of the matches came against ranked opponents . âÄúIâÄôm awfully happy that weâÄôve played some tough matches,âÄù coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúI donâÄôt think CaliforniaâÄôs schedule is anything near what weâÄôve played, and that can only help us going into that match.âÄù Cal Poly (4-2) has seen some tough competition, however, taking on No. 2 Nebraska last weekend. The Mustangs have relied on senior outside hitter Kylie Atherstone so far this year for offensive production, as she has averaged 3.46 kills per game with a .275 hit percentage. Junior outside hitter Gabby Rivera has also been productive this season, collecting 2.94 kills per game and a .276 average on nearly half the swings. Notre Dame (3-3) hasnâÄôt had a great showing this year so far, getting swept by Idaho in its most recent match. The team is hitting just .189 on the season, and doesnâÄôt have a player averaging more than three kills per game. Despite struggling early on, the Fighting Irish are still a team Hebert said has potential to cause opponents trouble. âÄúNotre Dame doesnâÄôt appear to be having a miraculous season at this point, but their talent is more than theyâÄôve shown so far on the court,âÄù he said. âÄúAt any point, it could erupt into a win; weâÄôre just going to hope itâÄôs not against us.âÄù With two nationally ranked opponents to play in the first weekend home, Hebert admitted that the Gophers may be playing with some added motivation. âÄúThese kids really want to play California,âÄù he said. âÄúIt does add a little to the match, yeah. LetâÄôs be the one to knock them off.âÄù