Volleyball meets with No. 1 team in the nation

The attitude of the top-ranked Penn State volleyball team is simple: No fear. The Lion king, coach Russ Rose, stresses that every match.
“I don’t fear anything,” Rose said. “I coach women’s volleyball for a living, I’m not a drug smuggler.”
That attitude will be felt this weekend when the Gophers volleyball team rolls into Penn State on Saturday night. Minnesota will be shooting to do something no other team has done in 69-straight matches.
Win at Rec Hall.
The Lions own the longest home winning streak in NCAA history. Ironically, Penn State (18-1, 8-0) hasn’t lost at home since November 25, 1995 when they fell to current Minnesota coach Mike Hebert’s Illinois team.
But that doesn’t mean Hebert and the rest of the No. 23 Gophers (16-4, 7-1) are going into Rec Hall with an automatic loss on their minds.
“I don’t think our players are intimidated by going to Penn State,” Hebert said. “There are two ways to look at it. One is they have that record streak. The other is, it’s got to end sometime — why not now?”
Penn State’s Rose has been impressed with the way the Lions have played this season despite losing three starters.
But like Hebert, Rose said it’s too early to take rankings into account.
“We haven’t even completed the first half of the Big Ten season,” Rose said. “Because of that I don’t get caught up in any of that nonsense.”
Beyond the Lions’ streak, Hebert believes there is a gap between Penn State and the rest of the conference for a couple of reasons.
First, Penn State is far more talented than any other in the Big Ten, he said. Second, they have the NCAA tournament experience.
“That can be a deciding factor when it comes to who wins and who loses,” Hebert said.
Hebert believes his team can beat Penn State. He said that although the Lions are a great team, they don’t do anything that cannot be stopped.
“Their offense is not tricky,” Hebert said. “They don’t try to fool you. They just come at you saying ‘Stop this.’ And not too many people can.
“They don’t make unforced errors and they play as good a defense as anyone in the country.”
Junior Charnette Fair said the defense will need to step up this weekend if the Gophers are to be successful.
“I absolutely think we can win,” Fair said. “Ultimately, defense is going to play a big role in winning this weekend.”
But before Fair and the Gophers can even worry about facing Penn State, they have to take care of business against Ohio State (9-6, 3-5) on Friday night.
Hebert said he’s been more focused on the Buckeyes, partially because Minnesota plays them first. He claims Ohio State will be just as much of a challenge to the Gophers as Penn State.
“As a coach I look at the tape of Ohio State and I don’t know how we are going to beat them,” Hebert said. “That is how good they are.”

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]