‘Hornets’ nests’ await volleyball team this weekend

Brian Hall

After being the only Big Ten road team to post a victory last weekend, the Minnesota volleyball team continues its four-game conference road streak this weekend in Michigan.

The No. 17 Gophers battle Michigan State in East Lansing on Friday before finishing the weekend in Ann Arbor with Michigan on Saturday.

Including Minnesota’s victories at Iowa and Purdue last week, the Gophers now own a road record of 17-5 over the last two-plus seasons.

“There are so many distractions from playing on the road,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “But, I think we do a good job of preparing our players to go into opposing arenas and have the same outlook, attitudes and preparation styles. We try to minimize the distractions, and I think that is one reason we have been successful.”

The Spartans and Wolverines also opened the Big Ten season on the road as each team lost at Wisconsin and Northwestern.

“We drew the short straws,” Hebert said. “We go in there after each team lost twice. It will be a real hornets’ nest. Both teams will be madder than hell.

“This will be one of the real tough road trips, because both teams are very competitive, and are in the top half of the Big Ten.”

Michigan State began the season 7-0, winning all seven on its home court. The Spartans are led by preseason all-Big Ten hitter Erin Hartley.

Hartley is averaging 4.24 kills per game while hitting .355, winning conference player of the week once.

With two wins this weekend, Spartans coach Chuck Erbe would earn his 100th career Big Ten victory

Michigan is 3-5 this season, losing four of its five games to top 20 opponents. The Gophers currently own a five-match winning streak versus the Wolverines.

“I would imagine that both are considering this weekend against us and Iowa to be the determiner of whether they are going to have a successful season or not in the Big Ten,” Hebert said.

The Gophers head into the matches aware of the competition and looking to improve their defense.

“We were much better defending and blocking last year,” Hebert said. “Our offense right now is a little ahead of last year’s pace. We need to get some separation between us and our opponent when it comes to the defensive end of the court.”

The Gophers hope that separation will come this weekend, while the Spartans and Wolverines attempt to rebound after a disappointing 0-2 start in conference play.

“Nobody wants to go 0-4 or 1-3,” Hebert said. “That is a heck of a bad start. We are walking into a situation where we are facing two very desperate teams, both of whom are very capable of beating us.”