The Gophers volleyball team is quickly turning what should be an intriguing theme into a tiring one.
Minnesota’s players have encountered various challenges over the past few years, from losing seasons to new coaches — and more often than not, they overcame them.
The Gophers have acted out this situation so many times this year, the excitement is becoming routine. It’s the equivalent of watching “Hoosiers” or “Rudy” over and over again.
That trend continued this weekend, as the Gophers fought off injuries and early deficits to win two matches at Purdue and Indiana.
Minnesota remained in a tie for third place in the Big Ten with Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Gophers are now 21-8 overall, 12-4 in the Big Ten, records that don’t reflect a team troubled by much of anything.
But both Purdue (4-12 in the Big Ten) and Indiana (3-13) had their chances to beat Minnesota. Besides losing the second game to Purdue on Friday, the Gophers fell behind in all three of the games they would eventually win. And though they swept Indiana the next night, the Gophers had to overcome deficits of 7-2 in the first game and 8-0 in the second.
“We don’t ever really worry,” said Minnesota sophomore Tara Baynes of the team’s penchant for slow starts. “As a team we have a lot of confidence. I’m sure for the people in the stands, it makes them nervous. But we know that it’s much better for us if we come out stronger.”
After Friday’s match, Baynes, a middle blocker, wasn’t sure she’d be able to help lead any comebacks the next night. Her back injury, which has been bothering her all year but had been improving in recent weeks, nearly kept her out of Saturday’s match.
“Her back was so bad after Friday’s match, I was convinced she wouldn’t play Saturday,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said.
Baynes was in treatment all day Saturday, and her back improved enough for her to play that night.
“I stayed pretty positive,” Baynes said. “I thought I had about a 50-50 chance of playing on Saturday, so I did surprise myself a little bit.”
Gophers junior outside hitter Sarah Pearman, who already has a sore right knee, injured her elbow during Friday’s match, but she also played Saturday.
“This weekend we proved we can be very resilient on the road,” Hebert said. “We played more like a veteran team that expected to win than at any other time this year.”
The Gophers were coming off one of their worst performances of the season, a surprising three-game loss to Michigan at home on Nov. 8. Instead of dwelling on that disappointment, the team went back to basics in preparation for the next weekend.
“I think it helped us,” said Gophers junior Jane Passer of the week off. “We focused on the things we needed to do, like defensive work and pushing to the ball. On Friday, we were a little anxious to see what would happen. After the first game, I knew we were pretty on.”
Hebert can’t guarantee his team’s wins will ever be easy, but he was pretty sure going into the weekend that nothing would resemble the Michigan match.
“Out of our first 27 matches, we only played the way we did against Michigan in three of them,” Hebert said. “I was confident we wouldn’t play that poorly again.”
FRIDAY’S SUMMARYGophers 15 14 15 15 — 3
Purdue 13 16 7 11 — 1
Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 30, Baynes 16, Fiamengo 15, Passer 13, Pearman 11. Digs: Pearman 16, DeDecker 15. Assists: Bauer 71.
T — 2:23. A — 1,196.
SATURDAY’S SUMMARYGophers 15 15 15 — 3
Indiana 9 9 10 — 0
Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 16, Baynes 10, Fiamengo 10, Passer 10, Pearman 10. Digs: DeDecker 13. Assists: Bauer 45.
T — 1:38. A — 368.