Minnesota sweeps the weekend

The Gophers won all four matches over the weekend against lesser foes.

Minnesota freshman outside hitter Sarah Wilhite bumps the ball against Duke on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Bridget Bennett

Minnesota freshman outside hitter Sarah Wilhite bumps the ball against Duke on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team took only one of its four matches past three sets this weekend.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t in the match in which a majority of the team’s starters stayed on the bench.

Minnesota successfully downed Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Dartmouth in straight sets and beat Connecticut in four sets at the Dartmouth Tournament on Friday and Saturday in Hanover, N.H.

The Gophers used their final warm-up before Big Ten play begins this Wednesday against Indiana as an opportunity to exercise their deep bench.

Senior middle blocker Tori Dixon led the team offensively in the first three matches against Rhode Island (13 kills, .667 hitting percentage), New Hampshire (10, .500) and Connecticut (17, .382).

She saw the last match of the weekend from a different perspective — the bench.

Gophers star starters like Dixon, senior outside hitter Ashley Wittman and sophomore outside hitter Daly Santana rested during the final match in favor of younger players.

“It made us a little nervous at first, but we got used to it,” Dixon said. “And me and Ash and everyone else were cheering our butts off on the bench.”

Dixon said the chance to mix up the lineup helped her team work out some kinks before matches really start to matter in the Big Ten.

Dixon said she knew the young players were capable after she saw their hard work in the gym.

Freshman outside hitter Sarah Wilhite stepped up as the team’s power hitter in the Dartmouth match, sans regulars Dixon and Wittman.

Wilhite led the Gophers with 15 kills and 10 digs. She added a .333 hitting percentage to a service ace and four blocks.

“We were able to pass well … [and] get her good, hittable sets,” Dixon said. “And she took cracks at it, which is really good.”

Wilhite said she and her younger teammates tried to stay composed in the Dartmouth match without senior leadership on the court.

“We just kind of went out there with the mentality that nothing is different,” Wilhite said. “We still play just as hard.”

Now the focus shifts with only a few days of practice before the first conference action of the season.

“As a freshman, I don’t really know [what to expect],” Wilhite said. “I’m just excited to start the conference with this team.”