The unexpected …

by Tim Klobuchar

The unexpected resurgence of the Gophers volleyball team has started to draw the attention of local fans.
The Sports Pavilion housed two crowds of over 2,000 Friday and Saturday nights in matches against Indiana and Purdue. The Gophers, in turn, showed their appreciation by winning both matches in four games, their 12th win in their last 14 matches.
Minnesota, 15-6 overall, vaulted into a second-place tie in the Big Ten with Penn State and Wisconsin at 6-2. Michigan State, the Gophers’ opponent this Friday, leads the conference at 8-0.
Friday’s match against Indiana drew 2,124, the larger of the two crowds. Minnesota’s players were ecstatic about the turnout.
“Initially, it was kind of a shock,” said Becky Bauer. “It was very cool. After we’d win a point, and we heard the cheers, it really got me going.”
Junior middle blocker Jane Passer went even farther.
“I think it means pretty much everything,” she said. “That’s the reason we’re here, to provide entertainment for the state of Minnesota. They appreciate what we’re doing, and we really appreciate what they’re doing for us.”
Eighty-Six the “Deuce”
ESPN2 was at the Pavilion for Friday’s match against Indiana, though it wasn’t an entirely welcome guest.
The small contingent of Indiana fans brought with them a sign that said, “Hoosiers dig ESPN2.” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert, meanwhile, probably thought the self-proclaimed “Deuce” was a little less than groovy.
The network brought with it the modified scoring rules for television that an NCAA committee approved over the summer. In the revised format the first three games are timed at eight minutes apiece, with the clock moving only when the ball is in play. The fourth and fifth games, if necessary, use rally scoring, in which a team doesn’t have to serve to score a point. The system is designed to fit matches into a two-hour time block.
The end result can be obscenely high scores, as was the case with the Minnesota-Wisconsin match, when the Badgers ran up more than 15 points in all three games, or very low scores, which happened twice against Indiana. The Gophers won game two 12-7 and lost game three 11-10.
That game featured the Hoosiers scoring the last point when time expired. The clock did add some excitement, but the drama seemed artificial. It was equivalent to a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning ending a game because it was taking too long.
The Gophers’ and Hebert’s biggest gripe with the format is that it changes the entire nature of the sport.
“The essence of volleyball is that there’s always a chance to come back and win, no matter what the score,” Hebert said last week. “That changes when you throw a clock into the mix of things.”
Hebert didn’t blame the format for his team’s loss in the second game Friday, and fortunately for him, he doesn’t have to deal with it anymore. Minnesota has two televised matches remaining on Midwest Sports Channel, but normal scoring will be used for both.
2,000 and counting
Senior outside hitter Katrien DeDecker smacked her 2,000 career kill early in the second game Saturday night, becoming just the third player in Big Ten history to do so.
DeDecker’s feat was announced over the public address system, and two separate groups of fans held up signs that formed the number “2,000.”
It was a nice moment, one that DeDecker really doesn’t remember because she was more focused on the match.
“I heard the crowd, kind of,” DeDecker said. “But that’s about all. I don’t remember anything about it. It didn’t really take me off my game. I just kept playing.”
Pearman’s knee hurt again
Junior outside hitter Sarah Pearman suffered an injury to her right knee in Saturday night’s match. That same knee was surgically repaired in 1994. She finished the match despite obvious pain.
She said she expects to miss a few days of practice, but plans to be back in the lineup this weekend.