Spikers raise confidence level with win over Iowa

Brian Hall

After narrowly escaping with a win against Division I-AA opponent Wisconsin-Green Bay on Monday, Minnesota’s volleyball team received a much-needed confidence boost against Iowa on Wednesday night.

Returning to Big Ten play, the Gophers defeated the Hawkeyes in four games (30-32, 30-18, 30-15, 30-18) at the Sports Pavilion.

“This was very good for us,” senior Stephanie Hagen said. “It was a must win game and we won. It was a good win, it helped us to mentally relax and build up our confidence.”

Added freshman Amanda Cipperly, “It helped us to find a love of the game. There wasn’t much stress out there for us. It shows that we can do it and do it against good teams.”

Minnesota (15-9, 8-7 Big Ten) hit a solid .387 while holding Iowa (4-19, 2-13) to a .124 hitting percentage.

The Gophers also held decided advantages over the Hawkeyes in digs, 63-47, and blocks, 13-9.

“Defensively we took care of business,” coach Mike Hebert said. “This was probably one of our best defensive read games. Also we got off to a slow start with 10 hitting errors in the first game, but really dominated the rest of the way.”

Five players tallied double figures in kills – senior Kathy Tilson, Hagen, sophomore Bethany Brafford, Cipperly, and sophomore Cassie Busse – while four finished with double-digit dig totals – senior Lindsey Berg, Brafford, Hagen and Tilson.

Tilson returned to the lineup after missing Monday’s match with back spasms. She was one of four players – Berg, Brafford and Hagen being the others – who recorded double-doubles.

“It was nice to have Tilson back in the lineup,” Hebert said. “You can see what she means to our passing and outside hitting games.”

Outside hitting, a weak spot of late, was a position of strength with Tilson’s return. Each starter reached double figures while Tilson and Busse each hit over .300.

“We had a good time,” Tilson said. “We were having fun, taking smart shots, and it really helped us to relax and play with confidence.”

Another weakness has been the Gophers inability to close out opponents.

“We have had a lot of unforced errors once games reach 25 to let teams back in,” Hebert said. “In game one we had trouble again, but after that we shut the lights out.”

The Gophers had 13 service errors on the night, representing Hebert’s main concern.

“Against a good outside-hitting team like Iowa you really want to reduce your service errors, but we didn’t do that,” Hebert said. “On the other hand they only had one ace so we had pretty good ball control.”

Senior Sara Meyermann, who owns the record for most kills by a Gophers opponent in a three-game match, led the Hawkeyes with 25 kills on 64 attempts.

The Gophers are in the middle of a six-match homestand, and five of their remaining seven matches will be played at the Pavilion. Minnesota hosts Purdue (4-19, 1-13) on Friday and Division II Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.

The Bulldogs own a 15-6 overall record and have won seven in a row. It will mark the first meeting between the two schools since 1980.