Gophers earn first ranking

It took a 6-0 Big Ten start but Minnesota’s volleyball team finally appeared in the top 25.
The Gophers (15-3 overall) are ranked 22nd in the country in the latest AVCA/USAToday Coaches Poll, which came out Tuesday.
Coach Mike Hebert claimed all season that rankings are not important but said Minnesota would be a tough team to leave out of the poll.
“The Big Ten is, if not the best, one of the two or three best volleyball conferences in the country,” Hebert said. “To have the team tied for first place (Minnesota) and not ranked would be a little odd.”
Hebert said earlier in the year that he has coached other teams which were ranked and maybe didn’t deserve to be. Still, he believes this team is one that truly deserves the ranking.
The players agree with Hebert. Junior Nicole Branagh said the team has played well and deserves to be in the top 25, but they are not letting the ranking go to their heads.
“We feel we should be ranked,” Branagh said. “But we’re not focusing on whether or not we are ranked.”
Minnesota joins Penn State (No. 1), Illinois (No. 23) and Wisconsin (No. 24) as the teams representing the Big Ten in the poll. Michigan — ranked No. 23 last week — fell out of this week’s poll after losing to the Gophers on Friday.
Minnesota will face the newly ranked Illini (9-3, 5-1) on Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion.

Another award
Branagh is going to have to get a bigger apartment for all her personal awards.
Along with being this week’s Big Ten player of the week, she was named AVCA national player of the week Tuesday.
Branagh — who doesn’t often get worked up about personal accomplishments — showed that she did have an ego, albeit a small one.
“From an individual point I’m thrilled and excited,” she said. “It’s great that I’m being recognized (for my improved play) and it’s great for the program.”
Hebert said Branagh has improved her all-around game this season, in part because of her ability to stay confident over a long season.
“She is playing more like an All-American than just an all-conference player,” Hebert said. “She is able to sustain her confidence over a long period of time.”
Branagh is only the second Gophers player to ever win the award. Becky Bauer was the first, back in the 1996 season.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]