The Gophers and Wisconsin have the same Big Ten records and Minnesota has won five of its last six matches.
Still, if the Gophers beat the No. 13 Badgers on Wednesday at the Sports Pavilion, it will be an upset.
The reason? For starters, when the teams played each other earlier this year in Madison, Wis., the Badgers pounded Minnesota in three straight games. Wisconsin, along with No. 5 Michigan State, No. 6 Penn State and No. 15 Ohio State, are teams Gophers coach Mike Hebert considers the Big Ten’s elite.
Minnesota, though possessing some of the league’s best players, has done more with its raw talent than any team in the conference. Naturally, the Gophers have been labeled as overachievers.
“We’re going to actually try and beat Wisconsin on Wednesday night,” Hebert said. “I don’t know if we can — they’re a very powerful team. But I think our confidence level is high, and our players would like to give a very different account of ourselves than they did last time.”
In Madison, the Badgers geared their defense to stopping Gophers star outside hitter Katrien DeDecker. The plan worked perfectly — DeDecker had just 14 kills in the loss. Last weekend, however, Minnesota showed it might be developing more of a balanced offensive attack. Every starter except Becky Bauer, the setter, had at least one match with double-digit kills.
“Obviously, everybody’s going to be keying on Katrien because they know we go to her a lot,” said Gophers middle blocker Jane Passer. “So if we can put a couple balls down from the other positions, that helps her out. When we do that, we’re a pretty tough team to beat.”
A few years ago, Fox launched an ill-fated sitcom called “Herman’s Head.” On Friday night, “Hebert’s Head” was unleashed at the Sports Pavilion, to much greater success.
As a Halloween promotion, a photograph of Hebert,which was glued to a wooden stick, was given away to fans.
Not everyone gets a mask made in their honor, but Hebert couldn’t help but be a little flustered when his name was introduced before the match and he saw hundreds of Heberts being waved back at him.
By that point, though, Hebert was used to the embarrassment. He had been putting up with ribbing from other athletics workers all week.
“I got a little grief,” Hebert said. “Someone did a little Mr. Potato Head with one of the masks, and there were some other things, not all of which can be mentioned.”
Asked for clarification of the Mr. Potato Head reference he said, “Just things like putting shoes on the stick.”
Shudlick sees more time
The Gophers are anything but a deep team, but freshman Susan Shudlick showed Friday that she is a dependable reserve.
Minnesota lost the first game to Illinois and trailed 3-2 in the second when Shudlick entered. She served five straight points, three of them coming on service aces, to help reverse the momentum of the match. Shudlick also hit another ace on game point.
Hebert wasn’t afraid to put Shudlick in late in the fifth game, which the Gophers won 15-9. Judging by how she played, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she didn’t feel any added pressure.
“I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “It’s what I’ve been training for. I just tried not to think about the score.”
ù Just 29 kills now separate DeDecker from the career school and Big Ten record.
Andrea Gonzales (1985-88) owns the record with 2,140 career kills. A huge match against Wisconsin would give DeDecker the record, but a more likely scenario for the milestone is Friday night against Michigan. That match will also be played at the Sports Pavilion.