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The Minnesota Daily

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Gophers aiming to rebound at Sports Pav

Minnesota dropped from No. 18 to No. 23 in the AVCA coaches’ poll.

For the young Gophers, the Big Ten has proven to be a tough league.

Though the first match of conference play was shaky, it was a successful match for Minnesota, as the team defeated Ohio State in five sets.

But the following three matches, two of which were on the road, showed the team’s weaknesses.

“Our relative lack of experience is something that we’re trying to overcome,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “We’re not seasoned enough yet to be able to battle away as well as we battle at home.”

The Big Ten has proved to be challenging this season. Seven of the 14 Big Ten teams placed in the top 25 in the AVCA coaches’ poll released Monday.

“In our league, it’s tough to win on the road. That’s the reality,” McCutcheon said.

In the past three matches, the Gophers have struggled with finishing sets.

“We get very close to winning sets, and we haven’t been able to get over the hump,” McCutcheon said.

Sophomores Hannah Tapp and Erica Handley both agreed the past few games haven’t gone the way they wanted them to.

“It’s been a struggle because we’ve been so close every game in these last few games,” Tapp said.

In the game against Penn State, McCutcheon said the Nittany Lions were better than the Gophers.

Against Illinois, he said the team wasn’t able to turn the match around in the third set, and the defense “couldn’t get it going” against Northwestern.

The fact that the team is getting close to winning sets shows that it is good enough to compete in the Big Ten, McCutcheon said.

It’s about making the right play at the right time, he said.

The team has identified opportunities for improvement after its losses, McCutcheon said, and has a lot to prepare for in order to have a successful weekend.

McCutcheon said the team needs to find better rhythm offensively. And defensively, he said the team is focusing on digging from the block.

“We’re really trying to strengthen our defense and have a strong defense at the front, as well as stop [the ball] with our digs,” Tapp said.

Handley said the team needs to work on forgetting its mistakes and moving on to the next point.

This weekend, the Gophers will play back-to-back matches Friday and Saturday night.

But energy isn’t an issue, as Tapp said the team played back-to-back matches all throughout the preseason.

“That’s not a challenge for us,” Tapp said. “We’re definitely in good shape. I think we’ll do well this weekend.”

McCutcheon said the team isn’t “mailing” this weekend in, and there is a sense of urgency.

“No one here is accustomed to losing three in a row,” he said.

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