Improved Iowa team up next for Minnesota volleyball

Brian Stensaas

While it’s true there might not be an ‘I’ in team, the vowel does sit in ‘confidence.’ Just ask the Iowa volleyball team.
After finishing last year’s season a sub-par 4-23, the Hawkeyes enter the Sports Pavilion on Wednesday night to take on No. 8 Minnesota with as many wins in the conference as they had in all of 1999.
The team hasn’t changed much. In fact, there’s just one change, albeit a large one: The addition of 6-foot-2 Fabiana De Abreu.
Listed in the Iowa media guide as an outside hitter, De Abreu does much more. If all-around court specialist were an official position in volleyball, it would fit her like a pair of comfy wool socks.
“She has given Iowa a reason to think they can play,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “She’s very calm, very experienced and now the whole team thinks they’re very good.”
A recruit from South Idaho Junior College, De Abreu is the reigning NJCAA player of the year. Last season with the Gold Eagles, she amassed 478 kills, 699 assists, 279 digs and 108 total blocks.
But as is the case with sports, it takes more than just one tough player to defeat tough teams.
Sure, the Hawkeyes are 4-2 in the Big Ten.. But those wins are against Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern; currently in places 8-11 in the conference, respectively.
The Iowa losses were to defending national champion Penn State and No. 7 Wisconsin.
Wins and losses aside, the team is playing better and presents a different challenge for the Gophers.
“They’ve made a lot of improvements,” Minnesota outside hitter Nicole Branagh said of the Hawkeyes. “Every year is different in this conference, you never know.”
The Gophers hold the definite historical edge over Iowa. Minnesota has won the last nine matches and 16 of the last 18. The Hawkeyes have never won at the Sports Pavilion and haven’t taken a match at Minnesota in almost a decade.
“We’re favored to win, but it’s not going to be the same team we defeated easily last year,” Hebert said. “Beating us is certainly something they think they can do.”
2K in Y2K for Branagh?
Should Branagh smack nine kills in tonight’s match with Iowa, she will have 2,000 for her career. Branagh — who has played in all 117 matches of her Gopher career — is leading the team with 5.10 kills per game, 5.47 in Big Ten matches.
Her 1,991 career kills put Branagh in sixth place all time in the Big Ten and third in school history. She needs 15 kills to move past Veronica Morales, who played with Michigan State from 1994-97, into fifth in the conference.
Cacho leaves team
Citing personal reasons, junior middle blocker Shelmadine Cacho has left the Minnesota volleyball team. Appearing in just seven games this season, Cacho had 10 kills in 15 attempts with no errors.