Minnesota back home for Diet Coke Classic

The Gophers began 3-4 in 2003, and they made it all the way to the Final Four.

by Mark Heise

Despite taking a few early season losses, the Minnesota women’s volleyball team has a legitimate opportunity to put together a four-game winning streak at home this weekend.

The Gophers have suffered through two suspensions

and four losses but are now at full strength as they prepare to kick off the Diet Coke Classic tonight at the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota (3-4 overall) will begin the tournament at 7:30 p.m. against Connecticut (8-1 overall) and will move on to play Tulane (4-2 overall) and Dayton (6-3 overall) Saturday.

Sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann spoke of the

past week’s matches in relation to how the team likes their chances.

“We started playing better together last week and using each other’s strengths,” she said. “This is how our team expects to play now. If we start playing every team like they’re a (top-ranked) Nebraska team we’ll do fine.”

While the team may take that attitude going into the tournament, the other teams won’t be looking anything like Nebraska.

Connecticut looks good on the surface, bringing a solid 8-1 record into the tournament. A closer look, however, quickly uncovers several flaws.

Aside from the fact that none of their nine opponents has received a vote in the polls, the Huskies have several holes in their game.

Connecticut is prone to attack errors, committing 34 in just 199 chances Tuesday. The Huskies also have a tendency to feed the opposing front row, allowing ample opportunities for a team that blocks well to pick up easy points.

Tulane is another team that has yet to face any legitimate opponents this season. The Waves suffered a three-game sweep earlier this year to Iowa – one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.

Tulane counts on two offensive players almost exclusively, giving the vast majority of attack chances to freshman outside hitter Ksenija Vlaskovic and sophomore outside hitter Sara Radosevic.

The young Waves team relies on another freshman, libero Jenn Miller, to anchor their defense. Miller leads the team with an average of almost five digs per game.

The Gophers finish off the tournament facing a small uphill battle as they take on Dayton. The Flyers entered the week with more votes than Minnesota in the polls, but Gophers coach Mike Hebert seems to think the advantage slants his way.

“I think playing at home provides our players an opportunity to relax. The comfort level is worth a great deal,”

he said. “From this point of view, it’s going to be advantage Minnesota.”

Dayton will try to disprove that and comes in boasting an impressive win over Arizona, which was ranked 18th at the time.

The Flyers had troubles Sept. 5, however, losing a four-game match to Illinois (picked to finish ninth in the Big Ten). Dayton’s defense broke down, allowing Illinois to average more than 18 kills per game.

Despite the shortcomings of all three teams, senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson said she expects to see some good competition.

“We have some quality opponents coming up and we need to perform really well to be successful,” she said. “This is our last chance to prepare for the Big Ten schedule and we need to use it so we’re ready to go next week.”