U blows past Iowa, stalls vs. Badgers

by Sarah Mitchell

The 25th-ranked Gophers volleyball team has seen this scenario before.
After falling into a losing skid, Minnesota manages to piece together an all-around win, lifting team confidence to a new high. But one or two victories later, the defeats begin to pile up again.
After suffering its third consecutive loss on Friday, a 1-3 defeat to No. 8 Wisconsin, Minnesota played with emotion Saturday, beating Iowa 3-0.
“When you’ve been bounced around like we’ve been sometimes it’s real hard to pull together your confidence to win again,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said.
The first time the two teams met this season, the Gophers (15-8 overall, 5-7 in the Big Ten) scraped together a 3-2 win against Iowa. This time, Minnesota won 3-0 by scores of 15-11, 15-5 and 15-10.
Gophers sophomore Heather Baxter held the team together during crucial moments of the game. The middle blocker was key in thwarting Iowa’s plan to release a bigger blocker on the right side.
“To counter that you have to pass well enough and have a hitter who can generate some heat,” Hebert said. “That’s what Heather was able to do tonight. It kind of stymied or neutralized their decision to do that. Heather had to deliver for it to work, and it did.”
With her game plan spoiled by Baxter, Iowa coach Rita Crockett looked to certain individuals to step it up. Junior outside hitter Julie Williams has provided the first-year coach with the most consistency.
Williams, who is No. 11 on the Hawkeyes’ all-time kill list with 957, smashed 12 kills against the Gophers defense.
“Tonight she did what she could do, which is a lot because everybody knows that Julie is going to get the ball and she still finds something to do with it,” Crockett said.
As a junior, Williams has been competing against the Gophers since Hebert’s first season. Williams said Minnesota is the team Iowa is striving to be.
“They’re more of a diverse team where they have a lot of weapons which is a lot harder to stop,” Williams said.
Although the Gophers are further along in the rebuilding process than Iowa, Minnesota has yet to reach its potential. On Friday, the second largest crowd in Sports Pavilion history — more than 3,500 fans — witnessed a 3-1 Wisconsin win by scores of 15-5, 15-3, 13-15 and 15-5.
Like the Gophers, who depend on the play of their younger players, the 8th-ranked Badgers (20-3, 10-2) received a dominating performance from freshman middle blocker Sherisa Livingston. She added only 10 kills to the Badger match total of 69, but it was court presence more than a quick arm swing that made Livingston stand out.
“Mentally she’s so much further ahead of most typical freshman that we’ve had as far as understanding the game, making adjustment, if she makes a mistake knowing what to correct next time,” Wisconsin coach John Cook said. “She’s just been a big surprise in that area.”
Gophers sophomore outside hitter Nicole Branagh smashed 21 kills while sophomore outside hitter Sonja Posthuma added 14. But Minnesota’s downfall was again the passing game, as Wisconsin recorded 13 service aces.
Minnesota will host No. 18 Michigan State and Michigan this weekend, two teams that beat the Gophers on the road. Hebert hopes his team uses the Iowa victory to break its pattern of inconsistency.
“It sounds kind of simple,” Hebert said, “but that’s really what (Saturday) was about for us, to remember how to win.”