Minnesota cruises in first two Big Ten games of the season

Mark Heise

It was a good start to the conference season for the Minnesota volleyball team this weekend.

The Gophers quickly grabbed their first two wins of the Big Ten season at the Sports Pavilion, defeating Purdue in three games Friday night, 30-26, 30-28, 30-25 before sweeping Indiana 32-30, 30-16, 30-21, Sunday afternoon.

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Minnesota (9-3 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) started Friday with a scare, as senior middle blocker Jessy Jones came down from a block attempt, landing on a Purdue player’s foot before collapsing on the floor.

Fortunately for the Gophers, Jones was able to finish the game after remaining down for a few tense moments.

Minnesota took advantage of miscommunication on the Boilermakers’ part in the first game, scoring two points on overpasses that dropped harmlessly on Purdue’s side. Junior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig recorded 19 kills, and the Gophers didn’t lose the lead after the eight-point mark to pick up a 30-26 win.

“Our left-side hitters really carried us tonight,” coach Mike Hebert said. “Both Kyla and Brook (Dieter) hit over .300, and Kyla had her best night of the season. When these two are hitting well, it makes things much easier.”

The Boilermakers (8-5, 1-1) came on strong in game two, pulling ahead to an 18-14 lead with a 6-0 run. But Roehrig and Jones came through in the tight situation as Roehrig collected two consecutive kills sandwiched between a Jones block and kill to tie the game. Jones contributed five kills on eight swings, leading Minnesota to a come-from-behind 30-28 win.

“That’s what your superstars have to do,” Hebert said. “When you need them, they have to deliver. Players like that have to like that role, because we are going to give them the ball when we need points.”

The Gophers quickly put the third game out of reach, taking a six-point lead midway through the contest. Roehrig pounded nine kills as Minnesota finished off Purdue in the conference opener, 30-25.

“This first conference match brought a lot more intensity than any of our previous matches,” freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer said. “I think this match gave us a better feel for what the rest of the season is going to be like.”

Fresh off of a five-game, comeback win over Iowa, Indiana came out strong against Minnesota in the first game.

The Hoosiers (10-4, 1-1) recorded an impressive 21 kills in the first game, but allowed service errors to get the best of them, committing six to lose the only close game of the match, 32-30. Indiana committed 14 service errors in the match.

“I don’t think we were ready to play early in the match,” Hebert said. “But what I liked was the fact that our team improved focus as the match went along. By the end, we were doing a lot of things very well.”

The Gophers recorded just 11 kills in the second game, but collected six blocks and hit .318 while holding the Hoosiers to a negative .100 hit percentage. Jones had three kills on just three swings, and added four blocks in the lopsided 30-16 win.

“Instead of trying to funnel balls to the defense, we’re going for blocks,” Jones said. “This year we have a more aggressive mindset.” Jones finished the game with nine kills, nine blocks and no errors.

Senior defensive specialist Kelly Roysland continued her impressive play of late, digging five attacks in the final game, including a few diving saves.

“Anytime Kelly steps onto the court, she’s giving everything she has to the game,” Hebert said. “She’s inspiring people around her. The intangibles she brings to the court are invaluable.”

Sophomore outside hitter Rachelle Hagerty also had a solid third game, collecting four kills on six attempts. As Minnesota is still searching for a player to take over the right side, Hebert called Hagerty’s play encouraging.

With two matches already under the team’s belt, Roysland said the weekend helped to set a tone for the rest of the season.

“Any time you can get off to a good start, it builds more confidence,” she said. “We wanted to prove that we could go out and get off to a great start.”

“That was the goal we accomplished this weekend, and now we can look forward to focusing on Iowa Wednesday.”