Spikers aiming for sustained effort down the stretch

Brian Hall

On Sept. 28 and 29, Minnesota’s volleyball team traveled to the state of Michigan and completed its worst road trip of the season by losing two matches in six games.

It was then the Gophers began showing signs of a team that coach Mike Hebert never expected to see.

“The Michigan State match was the first glimpse I had into the Jeckyl and Hyde personality that we have eventually taken on,” Hebert said.

Minnesota has gone 1-1 the last two weekends after alternating winning and losing weekends since conference play began.

The No. 24 Gophers (12-8, 6-6 Big Ten) host Michigan (11-8, 7-5) and the Spartans (13-6, 6-6) this weekend at the Sports Pavilion and hope to reverse the trend of up and down performances that began against the same two teams.

Hebert believes the erratic performances are due to his team’s confidence level and sees only one way to improve its mental state.

“We have to demand an awful lot from the players during practice and try to make practice seem much more difficult than a match,” Hebert said. “We need to help them to believe in themselves. We can demand a lot and make them believe they can do it.”

This weekend’s opponents currently bracket Minnesota in the conference standings – the Wolverines hold a one-match lead while Michigan State is tied for sixth with the Gophers.

“This is a critical weekend for us, for our chances to make the NCAA tournament,” Hebert said. “I don’t know what the committee thinks or might think, but the 18-win mark is probably enough to get us into the tournament. They don’t count conference record, they just look at your overall wins and losses.”

“It will kind of determine the rest of our season. Being home will be a plus and we have some confidence off of our Northwestern and Indiana wins. We know it is pretty important,” senior co-captain Lindsey Berg said.

After altering the lineup during Saturday’s win at Indiana, Hebert said his lineup still isn’t set.

“It’s getting late isn’t it,” Hebert said. “I am still waiting for Erin Martin, Trisha Bratford, some of these very talented kids to put their game together and become consistent. Amanda Cipperly is undersized but she is playing more consistently than those two outside hitters. And that is why she is out there.”

The lineup decisions to be made include the defensive specialist position, the opposite position and outside hitter. Hebert is pleased with the play of the defensive specialists but said there’s a wealth of players to choose from.

He is also using the week to determine who will start at the opposite position between sophomores Cassie Busse and Erin Lorenzen.

“Neither one of them are lighting it up to the point where you say it is obvious that is the player go with,” Hebert said. “Another close competition is between Martin and Cipperly to play opposite Kathy Tilson on the left side.”

One constant for Hebert during the past three seasons has been the setter position under the guidance of Berg. Berg’s status is still unknown after re-injuring her left ankle last weekend, but she is expected to play.

Brian Hall covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]