Ladies have chance to end losing skid

After dropping two games at home, Minnesota takes its show on the road.

by Mark Heise

After struggling through last weekend, the upcoming games have become even more crucial for the Minnesota volleyball team.

The Gophers travel to Northwestern on Friday to take on the Wildcats at 7 p.m., and play at Michigan State at 6 p.m. Saturday.

And if Minnesota wants to return to the conference race, senior Jessy Jones said it’ll need to return to the win column this weekend.

“Right now there’s a lot of disbelief in ourselves,” Jones said. “But right now we need to come together and have the mindset that no one can beat us. We have a reputation and we’re going to uphold it.

“This weekend is very important. We need to have these two wins on our record.”

The Gophers spent quite a bit of time focusing on the areas they struggled in last weekend, working on passing drills and trying to get the offensive rhythm back on track.

“It’s important to know what a weekend like that means to us,” coach Mike Hebert said. “We were able to see that it’s not something where we need to change our system, we just need to get the people out there to play better, especially on offense.”

Hebert said the team’s focus for the week was repairing the sluggish offense, and said the team did a lot of passing drills during the week, along with practicing setting the ball from tough positions on the court.

“Volleyball is a rhythm game offensively,” he said. “All the hitters have to feel that rhythm, and if the pass or set is slightly off, the rhythm breaks down and people start making mistakes. This is what we’re working to fix, because that’s what we didn’t have this past weekend.

Breaking a losing streak in the Big Ten can be a tough task in itself, but now Minnesota will have to do it on the road, adding another element to the challenge.

But freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer, coming off a strong weekend of play, said she felt confident in her team’s recent play on the road.

“We’ve been playing well on the road so far this year,” she said. “So I think it’ll pump us up. We want the teams we play to feel the same way we felt when we lost at home, so I think we’ll try to use that against them.”

Northwestern (10-9, 1-7) might be a good team to try to break out against as the Wildcats have struggled during the conference season, losing their last seven matches, and struggling to hold a .200 hit percentage.

Northwestern is led by junior middle blocker Chelsy Hyser, averaging 2.73 kills per game and a .366 hit percentage.

Michigan State (11-9, 2-6) hasn’t been as successful this year either, struggling early in the conference before finally picking up a pair of wins in the past few weeks.

The Spartans are led by senior outside hitter Katie Johnson, who led the team with 15 kills in a losing effort against Purdue last weekend. Senior outside hitter Ashley Schatzle added 14 kills and 10 digs, but beyond that Michigan State has struggled to find consistent offense from its team.

Minnesota is also looking to find consistency from its offense, and Hebert said the Gophers might be trying out a variety of rosters until they find one that works.

Whether they change the lineup or just correct the holes shown during last week’s matches, the bottom line stays the same. In order to hold onto any hope of a conference title, Minnesota will need to win both matches this weekend.

And that’s something Jones said to expect.

“We’re getting back on course, and I think we’re going to have a really good weekend,” she said. “We’re too competitive not to. Northwestern and Michigan State might have someone coming after them.”