Spikers hope for home win

After crashing Oregon’s party last weekend, Minnesota’s volleyball team will host an affair of their own this weekend at the Sports Pavilion.
The Gophers welcome Montana State, Denver and Navy to Minneapolis this weekend for the fourth annual Diet Coke Classic.
Minnesota has finished second in the tournament for the past three years. Coach Mike Hebert said his team hopes to change that streak this weekend and finally capture the trophy.
“We’re expecting to win our own tournament for the first time since I have been here,” Hebert said. “This is no disrespect to our opponents, but we are very committed to winning.”
Last year Minnesota lost to Auburn in the five-game championship match.
Nicole Branagh, who was named to the All-Classic team the past two years, is frustrated the team has yet to win the tourney.
“We want to change the tradition and win the tournament this weekend,” Branagh said.
Minnesota (6-3) needs to rebound this weekend after the team had its four-game win streak snapped by an underrated Northern Iowa (9-0) team Wednesday night.
Hebert compared the tough loss to a two-point buzzer shot in a basketball game.
“It was one of those matches that could have gone either way,” Hebert said. “If the ball rims out we win, if it goes in we lose.”
Branagh said the team cannot afford to let the loss to Northern Iowa affect the way they play this weekend.
“We have to know we have a weekend tournament to focus on, so we need to get ready for that,” she said.
Branagh also said that although the Gophers might be the tournament favorites, they cannot get overconfident. They’re sticking to the infamous “one game at a time” attitude.
“We need to focus on each game and be prepared for anything to happen,” Branagh said.
Minnesota has played well this season, but Hebert realizes the team still needs to stabilize the passing game and cut down on hitting errors in order to become a top-25 team.
“We’re getting blocked too much, and we’re hitting too many balls in the net or out of bounds,” Hebert said.
While the Gophers need to improve in those areas, they say the strength of the team is its unity.
“The team chemistry is good,” Hebert said. “I think they enjoy playing with each other and I think they are frustrated when they don’t play well.”
Another key to Minnesota’s success will be getting Stephanie Hagen back in the lineup. Hagen has been out with a sprained ankle and is questionable for this weekend.
“(Hagen) means a lot to this team,” Hebert said. “She is a quick healer and I expect her back. If not this weekend, then certainly by the following weekend.”
Whether the Gophers will miss Hagen’s help against Montana State, Denver and Navy remains to be seen.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]