Experiment fails: 5-1 reverts back to 6-2 after OSU match

by C.J. Spang

For 19 matches this season, Minnesota’s volleyball team had used the same offensive attack system and was 16-3 overall heading into this weekend’s matches against No. 20 Ohio State and third-ranked Penn State.

In an attempt to catch the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions off-guard, the 12th-ranked Gophers changed their offensive attack system from a 6-2 to a 5-1.

When running a 6-2, a team uses two setters, as compared to only one setter when operating in a 5-1 system. This allows one of the setters to take on more of an attack role, and in Minnesota’s case, that duty has been handed to All-American Kelly Bowman.

“This is probably the third straight weekend we haven’t played very well,” coach Mike Hebert said. “We were looking to give Kelly (Bowman) a chance to set the offense without having to worry about hitting.

“We wanted to clear her mind of the hitting responsibility, to just let her focus on setting.”

Unfortunately for the Gophers, neither Ohio State nor Penn State had any problem adjusting to Minnesota’s revamped offense.

While the match against the Buckeyes was relatively close, the match against the Nittany Lions was far from it.

The Gophers had 35 errors and were held to a season-low .051 hitting percentage.

But the players didn’t feel the offensive change was the cause of their weekend woes.

“I think since we’ve practiced both, it’s not too much of a big deal for us to switch,” junior middle blocker Meredith Nelson said. “Obviously we have to look at rotations and lineups and make sure we’re in the correct rotation; but other than that I don’t really think that there is much of a difference because we practice both.”

Another surprising change was Minnesota’s starting lineup against Penn State.

Senior All-American libero Paula Gentil was not in the starting lineup, and when she did step on the floor with the Gophers trailing 18-4 in the first game, she was playing as a defensive specialist.

When asked why he started Malama Peniata at libero, Hebert explained it was “coach’s choice.”

“Paula (Gentil) has had some mobility issues with her ankle. Malama (Peniata) had been playing really well all around the court,” Hebert said. “It was a one-game trial, let’s just see if Malama can produce something back there that maybe Paula can’t at this point until she gets healthy.

“It didn’t work. At least I didn’t detect anything different from that experiment, so that’s why we switched back to Paula right away for the rest of the match.”

But it didn’t matter who was on the floor for Minnesota, because Penn State was just too much.

The Gophers did return to their 6-2 offensive system part way through the second game and the team seemed to have at least a little bit of a transformation.

For now, it looks as though Minnesota will abandon this weekend’s changes and return to the offensive system that brought them early season success.