Gophers tested early in Diet Coke Classic

The Minnesota Volleyball team went 1-2 against three nationally ranked foes.

by Mark Heise

For a team still looking to find continuity on the court, the Minnesota volleyball squad still managed to look pretty solid.

The ninth-ranked Gophers won one match and lost two while hosting the Diet Coke Classic this weekend, topping No. 12 San Diego 28-30, 30-23, 30-24, 31-29 in their final match Sunday.

Minnesota lost, however, to No. 23 Ohio in five games, 30-24, 29-31, 30-18, 27-30, 13-15, and fell to second-ranked Stanford in four games, 30-26, 23-30, 26-30, 23-30.

Senior defensive specialist Kelly Roysland found the tournament to be positive regardless of the results.

“I think it was a great test for us,” she said. “Any time you go up against three teams ranked in the top 25, it’s going to be a good weekend. It was great to end the tournament with a win and to make a statement by staying focused and making plays down the stretch.”

The Gophers showed flashes of brilliance starting off against Ohio, yet failed to make plays during keys stretches. Minnesota out-blocked its opponent 17-6, yet gave up 13 service errors to lose.

“It’s amazing that you can lose a match while winning most of the statistical categories,” coach Mike Hebert said. “I was surprised we weren’t mentally tougher at the critical times; we weren’t competitive at the end of the game.”

Freshman outside hitter Brook Dieter led the team with 22 kills, showing off her composure as 15 of 22 kills came after the halfway point of each game.

“The biggest thing for me is just having confidence in myself, because I’ve never had that,” she said. “I went out knowing I could make a play, and I guess it made a difference.”

Junior setter Rachel Hartmann finished the match with 55 assists and 16 digs, while sophomore libero Christine Tan led the team with 20 digs.

After a poorly served match against Ohio, the Gophers’ match against second-ranked Stanford proved to be just the opposite.

Despite eventually losing to the Cardinal in four games, coach Hebert expressed relief in his team bouncing back.

“I saw a whole lot of positive things,” he said. “And I feel the same way about this team now as I did before this tournament. I have very strong feelings about how good we’re going to be.”

Freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer recorded two aces in the first game, and junior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig picked up six of her 14 kills on the match as Minnesota (2-2 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) jumped out to a 20-12 lead and -didn’t look back in the 30-26 win.

Stanford adjusted in the second game, holding the Gophers to just a .143 hitting

percentage, and finished off Minnesota with an average of 20 kills per game in the final three games.

The Gophers out-blocked the Cardinal 17-9.5, led by senior middle blocker Jessy Jones’ eight blocks. Jones added 10 kills, while Dieter led the team with 15 kills and 14 digs.

Minnesota finally found the win column against San Diego, with Jones leading the way recording 14 kills and 7 blocks.

The Gophers didn’t waste any time making up for a first-game loss, leading comfortably in both the second and third games. Dieter recorded 15 of her match-high 20 kills in games two and three.

Roysland came up big for the Gophers in game four, making a diving dig late in the game to help hand Minnesota a 31-29 lead.

But Roysland’s dig wasn’t her only big play. The defensive specialist showed leadership after the team’s previous miscue due to miscommunication, waving off her teammates and shouting “mine” as if calling off a fly ball for the Twins. It was something Hebert said he appreciated.

“It’s more than nice, it’s gratifying,” he said. “Volleyball has the smallest amount of space with the most athletes of any sport in the world, so communication becomes a premium.”