After win, Minnesota hosts reeling Michigan

Michigan has struggled since losing to the Gophers on Oct. 7.

Charlie Armitz

If thereâÄôs any team that exemplifies just how tough the Big Ten is, itâÄôs the Michigan Wolverines.

ItâÄôs not because theyâÄôve played outstanding volleyball through their first 14 conference matches.

Instead, itâÄôs because theyâÄôve been punished, for the most part, by a grueling conference schedule âÄî and yet, they remain a nationally ranked team.

No. 24 Michigan, which plays No. 16 Minnesota on Sunday at the Sports Pavilion, won all 12 of its nonconference matches before running into the freight train that is the Big Ten. The Wolverines are 5-9 in the conference and have yet to defeat a team besides the conferenceâÄôs bottom three.

The Gophers (15-9, 8-7 Big Ten) may have something to do with that.

Minnesota rallied from two sets down to defeat Michigan 3-2 on Oct. 7 in Ann Arbor, Mich., ending the WolverinesâÄô chances of recording their first signature win of 2011.

Michigan lost five of its next six matches before rebounding to win two of its last three.

The Gophers ended a five-match losing streak in Ann Arbor with the Oct. 7 win. At home, theyâÄôve been a much tougher opponent.

Minnesota has won its last 13 home matches against Michigan dating back to 1998, eight of which have been straight-set wins.

The last time the two teams played a five-set match in Minneapolis was Sept. 26, 1997, when Michigan won 3-2.

Yet, Gophers interim head coach Laura Bush said the Wolverines could pose a threat.

âÄúI still think theyâÄôre a dangerous team,âÄù Bush said. âÄúTheyâÄôre pretty much the same team as when we first played them. I donâÄôt see anything easy in the last Big Ten matches.

She added, âÄúThe strategy that worked [against Michigan] a month ago maybe isnâÄôt the strategy that will work this time.âÄù

Michigan ranks second in the Big Ten in aces, but the Gophers limited them to three aces in their comeback win. Minnesota has shown improvements in its serving and passing recently âÄî the Gophers have 25 aces in their last four matches to their opponentsâÄô 10.

Minnesota is 6-4 since winning in Ann Arbor, including WednesdayâÄôs straight-set victory against Michigan State.