Lowly traveling partner Iowa awaits

Kent Erdahl

After being a doormat for half of the Big Ten so far this season, Iowa’s volleyball team finally welcomes Minnesota to town tonight.

The Hawkeyes, who sit at 9-9 on the season but a dismal 1-5 in the Big Ten, will face their travel partners, the No. 2 Gophers, in Iowa City, Iowa, at 7 p.m.

Although the teams have yet to face each other, Iowa has already hurt Minnesota indirectly this season.

As travel partners, Iowa and Minnesota alternate matches against the same two opponents on typical Big Ten weekends.

But the Hawkeyes’ conference struggles – including one match win over Michigan State and only two game wins in their five other matches – allow half the conference to use Iowa as a welcome mat before matches with the Gophers.

The other top Big Ten teams – No. 5 Penn State and No. 8 Ohio State – make up one of the most feared traveling duos in the nation.

“I think we’ve gotten used to (traveling with Iowa) over the years,” middle blocker Jessica Byrnes said. “But it would be nice to have a partner like Ohio State, just because the night before you know your opponent is getting stressed out by the other team.”

Iowa has benefited from Minnesota’s strength already this season, defeating Michigan State the day after Minnesota disposed of the Spartans in three games.

But are the Gophers looking for revenge because their neighbors haven’t returned the favor?

“We probably should,” Byrnes said. “It had never crossed my mind, but we probably should do that because it would get us fired up.”

Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said every team wants a better travel partner, and he denied that the Gophers would use it as motivation.

Despite two three-game sweeps of Wisconsin and Northwestern last weekend, Hebert said the Gophers have plenty of motivation as it is.

“I was only mildly pleased with last weekend. I think we can do better,” he said. “It’s not whether we win. It’s how we play.”

Besides playing up to their potential, the toughest aspect of the match for the Gophers will be its unorthodox timing. Midweek games seldom occur during the Big Ten season, and the trip to Iowa will cut into the players’ class schedules.

But one benefit will come this weekend – Minnesota will have extra time to prepare for its home match against No. 23 Illinois on Saturday.

The Illini match will be the first at Williams Arena since 1993, and the Gophers will have the day off Friday to practice there.

Tonight, though, the players said they just want to focus on sweeping their doormat as a No. 2 team is expected to.

“Hopefully, we’ll win 3-0. That’s the goal we’re going for,” Lindsey Taatjes said. “We just need to go at it like we’re going to play our best, and then we should come out with it 3-0.”