Volleyball team loses heartbreaker in Hawaii

Brian Stensaas

HONOLULU — It’s about as close to a home court advantage as the Minnesota volleyball team was going to get playing just off the lovely shores of Waikiki Beach.
Wearing their white home jerseys and already being blessed with the home crowd cheering section of team captain Lindsey Berg — a Honolulu native — the Gophers went and hired the Royal Hawaiian Band to play at Stan Sheriff Center on Thursday night. And yes, they played the Rouser.
However, despite the grand effort by the well-known Island band, the popular Minnesota pep song was a touch out of tune for the majority of the evening. There was a different ring to it. It was just a split second off, much like the performance of the Gophers in their sweet 16 match of the NCAA volleyball tournament where Minnesota fell to UC Santa Brabara 15-12, 7-15, 15-7, 15-10.
The win gave the Gauchos a 3-2 all-time series edge and snapped a streak of two straight losses.
“This is the most difficult match we have played in all year,” UCSB coach Kathy Gregory, a 26-year coaching veteran of collegiate volleyball said.
“There were times out there that (Minnesota) made us look like we were 4-foot-2.”
Never really getting on the right path, things just weren’t going right for the Gophers. On numerous occasions the ball dropped just within reach of a diving Minnesota hand. Other times Nicole Branagh or Charnette Fair would blast the ball off a Gaucho defender only to have another save it in the out of bounds — which seemed farther away than the Pacific Ocean reaches.
“I was surprised at how we struggled with our passing game,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “But it wasn’t a runaway match for Santa Barbara. I am very proud of this team.”
The Gophers came out strong in the first game, jumping out to a 9-2 lead before the Gauchos stormed back to take a 12-11 lead. Following a Minnesota timeout, a service ace by Yvonne VanOort tied the game at 12, but that was as close as the Gophers would get. UCSB’s Brie Lampe smoked a kill following a long volley to give the Gauchos the game one win.
“That run at the end of game one is, in my mind, where the match was won for them,” Hebert said.
Finally finding their grove in the second game, the Gophers shook off an early deficit after three service aces by UCSB to win the game 15-7. Paced by Charnette Fair, it looked as though the early game jitters that plagued Minnesota in the middle of the season had completely worn off.
Then again, looks can be deceiving.
UCSB won the third game and after seven match points — or aloha balls — in the fourth they earned the win over Minnesota to advance to the regional final Friday night against the winner of Long Beach State and Hawaii.
“We’re not a team to give up,” Berg said. “We fought as hard as we could out there, some things just didn’t go our way.”
Fair led the team with a career-high 23 kills, hitting .514 for the match. She also finished with 10 blocks. Branagh finished the match with 19 kills and 2,379 for her career, a Minnesota and Big Ten conference record.
“Charnette played some of the best volleyball of her career the last two weeks and definitely did so tonight,” Hebert said.
Minnesota finishes the 2000 season 30-4, the best in school history.