Small crowd sees U best Iowa in straight sets

Jeff Barthel

Minnesota volleyball junior Erin Martin fiercely slammed down a kill to give her team a 26-17 lead in game three Wednesday night against Iowa.

Immediately following the kill, she ran back to the service line as if it were business as usual.

“I could hear my friends yelling out there,” Martin said. “It was exciting to see them and have them here tonight.”

The 6-foot junior from nearby Ames, Iowa, came through for the Gophers against Iowa. Martin had a team-leading .556 hitting percentage in the team’s 30-15, 30-27, 30-19 victory over the Hawkeyes.

“Marty was up for us,” freshman middle blocker Meredith Nelson said. “The team gets on an emotional wave when she gets going.”

Martin and Nelson helped lead the Gophers to their 16th consecutive triumph over Iowa. It was a victory coach Mike Hebert was pleased with.

“Gratifying,” Hebert said in regard to the win. “We knew we were the favorite and should have control.”

And his team did. The Gophers (10-7, 3-2 Big Ten) defeated Iowa at the Carver-Hawkeye arena in front of a smattering crowd of 137 in the 15,500-seat venue.

“It was very disturbing,” Hebert said of the small crowd. “It was like hearing the sounds of silence.”

Iowa, being a 5-10 team – and 0-5 in the Big Ten – has now lost six consecutive matches.

Only a few fans clapped lightly for the Hawkeyes on Wednesday.

There were, however, a few Gophers parents and teammate Jen Bowman in the stands showing their support.

The group of Minnesota fans shouted the popular “Point U” after several Minnesota points – as is customary at the Sports Pavilion when the Gophers score a point.

Many of the points were scored in game three, as Minnesota was able to accomplish a relatively quick 30-19 win.

Quick, but quiet.

“It’s quiet here,” senior captain Cassie Busse said. “But we were able to find our own energy tonight.”

Busse had five of her team-leading 15 kills in game three. One of these came on a perfectly timed smash making the score 18-12 and another putting the Gophers’ victory on ice, hitting the final kill of the game.

Busse also had a .448 hitting percentage, .137 points above her season hitting percentage.

Wednesday in game two, the team struggled a bit, but escaped with a 30-27 win.

“I was impressed with Iowa in game two,” Hebert said. “(Iowa) changed their offensive attack, and we had a little trouble adjusting to it.”

Minnesota and Iowa tied in kills for game two with 18. Although the Gophers dominated the match with a .412 hitting percentage and 51 kills, Iowa had something working in game two.

“We were trying to spread out our offense,” Iowa coach Rita Buck-Crockett said. “They have a tough team, they have been ranked and we aren’t.”

Game one featured more Gophers prominence, especially from Nelson, who was reportedly under the weather.

“Meredith was feeling sick,” Martin said. “She’s playing real well besides going through that.”

Nelson’s five blocks in game one were her only blocks on the night.

“We wanted to prove last week wasn’t a fluke,” Nelson said.

The Gophers defeated Illinois and Northwestern at home last weekend.

The Gophers will ride a three-game conference winning streak into a match against Wisconsin (11-4, 3-1) this Saturday evening in Madison, Wis.