Volleyball drops a pair on the road in Big Ten opening weekend

Jeff Barthel

The gym at the Intercollegiate Athletic Facility was wide and spacious, filled with cheerleaders, a pep band and several fans Saturday evening.

The fans, mostly dressed in gold and black, were buzzing with excitement to watch some volleyball and see their unranked Boilermakers take on No. 18 Minnesota, the defending Big Ten champions.

Much to the fans’ delight, the Boilermakers came through victorious.

But after a weekend that saw two losses, Gophers coach Mike Hebert wasn’t as pleased.

“What happened was we just didn’t play well,” Hebert said. “Indiana and Purdue did.”

Hebert said this on the cusp of his Gophers (7-7, 0-2 Big Ten) losing their first two Big Ten matches this season.

On Friday, they lost to Indiana (9-4, 2-0) in Bloomington. Then on Saturday, the team lost to Purdue (9-3, 2-0). Both teams were

unranked before entering play Friday.

After losing the first game in West Lafayette, the Gophers rebounded to win game two by a 30-25 score.

But it was the third game that brought about the problems Hebert noticed.

“We had big leads, but we’d let them get away,” Hebert said.

Minnesota had a 28-22 lead as senior captain Cassie Busse and junior outside hitter Trisha Bratford were knocking down kills left and right.

Busse led the team, finishing the Purdue match hitting .432 and matching a career high with 24 kills – a feat she accomplished against Colorado State on Sept. 19.

Bratford turned in a nice performance as well, knocking down 17 kills and hitting at a .333 clip.

“Bratford was tough,” Purdue coach Dave Shondell said. “We were working to try stopping her all night.”

Despite Busse and Bratford’s efforts, the 28-22 lead in game three did not hold up. The Gophers

allowed eight straight points down the stretch en route to losing the game 31-29.

The game three victory was key for Purdue. After Minnesota tied things up at a game apiece, the Gophers hoped to earn their first Big Ten victory.

Purdue, however, was able to take game four en route to a 30-25, 25-30, 29-31, 30-24 defeat of the Gophers.

“They are as talented of a team that we will play all season long,” Shondell said of Minnesota. “For Purdue, a team that has been in the cellar, to beat a team with that kind of talent, it was a wonderful win for us.”

About the same thoughts were uttered by Indiana coach Katie Weismiller. Her Hoosiers defeated the Gophers on Friday night in straight sets 30-22, 30-25, 34-32.

“To sum it up in one word, it would be great,” Weismiller said about the feeling of beating the Gophers in Indiana’s Big Ten home opener. “Our team did a great job on all aspects.”

The Hoosiers tore up Minnesota’s defenders by compiling a team hitting percentage of .314 compared to the Gophers’ .179.

Indiana received a solid performance in the match by senior outside hitter Monique Pritz.

“I was just going up to terminate,” Pritz said. “I’d just try putting the ball away when it was hit toward me.”

Pritz seemed to have little problem with the Gophers’ front blockers. She had a team-leading .889 hitting percentage and knocked down eight kills.

Minnesota did not fair well with Indiana, but Busse applauded her team’s effort as the match progressed.

“I’m proud of the way the girls played at the end,” Busse said. “It’ll hopefully carry over.”

Minnesota will have its chance to get back on the winning track when it gets set to greet two more Big Ten foes this weekend.

The Gophers take on Northwestern on Friday before playing Illinois on Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.