Spikers sweep Denver tourney

Ben Goessling

Paula Gentil knew better.

Slowly recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in her right knee, the freshman realized she should skip the University of Denver tournament over the weekend and gear up for the start of Minnesota’s volleyball team’s Big Ten schedule this weekend.

But Gentil’s competitive side took over.

“I knew it would be painful, but I just can’t sit and watch when we’re losing,” Minnesota’s libero said. “I’d play with my leg broken if I had to.”

Gentil played only one match over the weekend, but it was a big one. She contributed 17 digs as the eighth-ranked Gophers topped No. 19 Santa Clara in four games Saturday afternoon to ensure they would win the tournament.

After Minnesota limped through a meaningless victory over Maryland on Saturday night, it became obvious the Gophers, like Gentil, relied more on guile than game to win.

“We were a very tired volleyball team,” head coach Mike Hebert said. “That’s the good news, bad news of scheduling tough.”

Finishing a whirlwind stretch in which it played six top-10 teams in less than a month, Minnesota (13-2) completed its non-conference schedule with a fatigued performance.

Battling injuries and Denver’s stifling altitude, the Gophers hit just .205 for the weekend, a far cry from the team’s sizzling .362 average at the Nike Invitational on Sept. 13-14.

Hebert said the team did have its moments, however.

“I thought the Santa Clara win was a good one,” he said. “They were better than North Carolina (who Minnesota beat in the Nike Invitational) by a good level. We struggled, but we controlled the other matches.”

Cassie Busse and Lindsey Vander Well were named to the All-Tournament team.

Outside hitter Trisha Bratford posted a career-high 22 kills against Denver on Friday night, and defensive specialist Lisa Reinhart tallied 38 digs for the weekend in Gentil’s absence.

Minnesota’s conference schedule kicks off Friday night against 21st-ranked Michigan State, and though the team struggled over the weekend, Busse said the trials in Denver’s altitude would help the team maintain its position among the rarefied air of college volleyball’s elite.

“We shouldn’t have just expected to win (the Maryland match) like we did,” Busse said. “We know we have to play hard against everyone in the Big Ten, whether it’s Penn State or Purdue, and we definitely learned lessons through it.”