Offense, defense get in on sweeps

Kent Erdahl

Members of Minnesota’s volleyball team’s defensive unit, along with fans and some other players, sported headbands over the weekend in honor of senior outside hitter Erin Martin’s accessory of choice.

The addition to the defense’s wardrobe showed the bond and respect the unit has shared with Martin and the rest of the Minnesota offense, but it was especially fitting during a weekend in which the two parts shared the weekend’s success.

On Friday, Minnesota (26-4, 15-3 Big Ten) relied on its defensive strength to outlast Purdue (15-13, 8-10) in three games. Then Saturday, it was Minnesota’s offense that shone brightest in a three-game sweep of Indiana (8-21, 2-16).

Despite the Friday sweep of the Boilermakers, all three games were closely contested in the 30-24, 30-25, 30-23 match. Minnesota survived some late-game surges thanks to an absorbing defense that out-dug Purdue 70-54.

Junior libero Paula Gentil led the effort with 24 digs.

“I guess that’s their trademark. They’re not a very powerful team, but they hit really good shots and work hard to beat people by not going away,” Gentil said. “But we work hard too, and I think we showed that.”

Gentil maintained her steady play Saturday and broke the Big Ten career digs record of 1,931, even though she is just a junior.

But it was Martin and the rest of the Gophers offense who ensured Minnesota another sweep.

Despite playing an Indiana team that was tied for last place in the conference, Minnesota found itself tied 11-11 in game one.

But the Gophers stormed back, scoring the next 11 points. Martin keyed the attack, killing the final five of those points in succession.

“We knew that we were going to get chewed out (before a timeout early in the game), because we weren’t playing well at all even though we were winning,” Martin said. “We just knew that we weren’t playing up to our potential at that time, and we knew we had to just step it up.”

Martin’s effort showed in her stat line – she finished game one with 11 kills, no errors and a hitting percentage of .733.

By the end of the three games, Martin had 18 kills and a .457 hitting percentage despite limited playing time.

The rest of the offense was nearly as flawless. In game one, Minnesota didn’t commit a single hitting error, and the team’s .341 hitting percentage was high for a night that featured 10 Gophers with at least one kill.

“It just doesn’t get any better. We served well and attacked well,” coach Mike Hebert said. “There wasn’t much we did wrong tonight. That’s the story of the match.”

Although the storyline changed from Friday to Saturday, the outcomes were the same. With a pair of sweeps, Minnesota remained in a tie for second in the conference and in good position for the postseason.

With the season settling down and the Gophers settling into their postseason position, only one question remains: Will the defense keep the headband trend going?

“It was a little warm, but I kind of like it,” Gentil said. “It kept the sweat out of my face, so I might have to keep using it.”