Late rally against Nebraska falls short

by Chris Lempesis

At the conclusion of the Diet Coke Classic on Saturday, Minnesota junior middle blocker Meredith Nelson said Monday’s showdown with top-ranked Nebraska would “teach us a lot about where we need to be.”

What the sixth-ranked Gophers learned – despite losing the match to the Cornhuskers in five games (30-27, 30-25, 26-30, 25-30, 15-12) at the Sports Pavilion – was that their young group is farther along than expected at this early juncture in the season.

“Unlike Nebraska, we didn’t know what we had going into the match in terms of the strength of our team this year,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “And on the basis of what I saw, I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

Hebert has good reason to make such a statement. Minnesota (3-1 overall) battled Nebraska (5-0) – which has defeated third-ranked Stanford, fourth-ranked Hawaii and 12th-ranked Ohio State all in straight games this season – for the first two games before pulling off a comeback in game 3.

The Gophers, trailing 24-18, rallied to take 12 of the final 14 points, including an eight-point-in-a-row stretch, and win the game 30-26.

“It was a real turning point for our team and for our chemistry as a team and how we were going to work together and work through difficult times,” she said.

The Gophers’ momentum from the comeback carried over to game 4, winning 30-25 to force the fifth and deciding game.

With the rabid crowd of 3,850 behind them, the Gophers seemed primed to pull off the upset. But it was not meant to be.

Nebraska grabbed the lead midway through the game andheld on late.

Still, Cornhuskers coach John Cook was impressed with the Gophers, saying that they were “the best team we’ve played, I think, to this point, with the exception of Stanford” and that “you’ve got to consider them a contender for getting to the Final Four.”

For now, though, Hebert is not thinking about the Final Four; he’s just pleased with the lessons learned Monday.

“It was just a terrific match for us,” he said. “Because not only were we able to gain some confidence that we can play at this level, but we also know exactly what we need to fix.”

Gophers win Classic

Minnesota won this weekend’s Diet Coke Classic, played at the Sports Pavilion.

The Gophers defeated North Dakota State 3-0 on Friday. They then downed Central Florida 3-0 and Xavier 3-0 on Saturday.

Junior setter Kelly Bowman, senior libero/defensive specialist Paula Gentil and Nelson were named to the All-Tournament Team with Bowman taking home Most Valuable Player honors.