Spikers hope enough is left to make another title run

by Jeff Barthel

Minnesota’s volleyball team came into this season with an unfamiliar role – as defending Big Ten champions.

In their first-ever championship run last year, the Gophers went 32-6; this year, the 24th-ranked Gophers are second in the Big Ten.

With six matches remaining, the Gophers boast a 17-9 overall record (10-4 Big Ten).

These matches begin tonight as the team welcomes Indiana for a 7 p.m. match at the Sports Pavilion.

It is safe to say this team will not win 32 games; however, it remains to be seen whether the

Gophers will be able to win enough to reclaim their Big Ten supremacy.

This weekend, the Gophers’ three captains – Cassie Busse, Lindsey Taatjes and Erin Lorenzen – will look to lead their team to a pair of victories.

“All three have been very steady in practice,” coach Mike Hebert said. “They’ve been consistent in practice and in competition Ö I think there’s reason to be pleased with their level of consistency.”

Busse, for one, knows the team has to display this consistency to see success.

“The last half of the season is when teams will struggle, or they’ll really come out strong and define what teams can pull it out when they’re worn out and tired,” she said.

Busse currently leads the team with a .304 hitting percentage and 430 kills. Paula Gentil has 441 digs to lead the team in arguably the most important defensive statistic.

Taatjes leads the team in assists with 1,122. The junior setter set a Minnesota single-season record with her 1,734 digs last season.

However, those statistics should be put aside for now as the Gophers prepare to face the unranked Hoosiers (11-15, 4-10) – a team that beat them in straight sets earlier this season.

Hebert remembers the Indiana match; His team was severely out-hit by the 10th-place Hoosiers. Minnesota was out-hit .314 to .179.

“Indiana played a terrific match; we couldn’t stop their middles,” Hebert said. “It’s hard to believe that that team hasn’t continued to win because they played hard that night.”

In particular, Indiana presented a fine effort by senior middle blocker Katie Pollom.

“Pollom was a big part of that,” Hebert said. “She is a very crafty middle hitter; we couldn’t stop her.”

Pollom, a 6-foot-3-inch player from Indianapolis, torched Minnesota defenders for a .421 hitting percentage. Her season hitting percentage is .277.

Also in the match in Bloomington, Ind., the Hoosiers showed a solid performance by senior outside hitter Monique Pritz. The 6-foot player from Columbus, Ohio, hit .889 on eight kills in her nine attempts.

After its contest with Indiana, Minnesota will prepare for a Saturday night match versus Purdue.

Purdue defeated Minnesota 3-1 in a match at West Lafayette, Ind., in late September.

Setter Renata Dargan and her 1,063 assists lead the Boilermakers. The 6-foot sophomore dished out 49 assists in the win over Minnesota.