Despite struggles on the road, Gophers split weekend

Freshman middle blocker Tori Dixon returns the ball to Northwestern October 29 and the Sports Pavillion.

Joseph Michaud-Scorza, Daily File Photo

Freshman middle blocker Tori Dixon returns the ball to Northwestern October 29 and the Sports Pavillion.

Lindsay Guentzel

When it comes to Big Ten volleyball, thereâÄôs no place like home. For better or worse, no one knows that better than the 19th-ranked Gophers, who split a significant weekend on the road just three weeks before NCAA tournament selections. Minnesota lost 3-1 on Friday to an Indiana team it swept at home earlier this season. After losing the first set 25-22, the Gophers took a seven-point lead late in the second set and needed just three points to even the score. But with the help of some strong serving, Indiana picked up six of the next eight points, winning 26-24. The Gophers took the third set 21-25, highlighted by freshman Ashley WittmanâÄôs four kills, but couldnâÄôt continue the late rally and dropped the fourth set 25-22. âÄúIt wasnâÄôt that we struggled, I just thought Indiana played a better match,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúThe cloud that drifted over the court when we couldnâÄôt close out the second set, that just did us in.âÄù The clouds didnâÄôt linger Saturday, though, as Minnesota outhit and out-blocked the Boilermakers on its way to a rare conference road victory âÄî 25-18, 21-25, 31-29, 25-22. Sitting at 18-8, six of the GophersâÄô eight losses have come on the road. They arenâÄôt the only nationally ranked Big Ten team to struggle, either, as all four of No. 9 Penn StateâÄôs losses have come on the road, as well as four of No. 15 MichiganâÄôs five losses. âÄúItâÄôs why [SaturdayâÄôs] match was so important,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúIt was beating one of the Big TenâÄôs elite teams on the road, and that hasnâÄôt happened this season.âÄù Senior captain Lauren Gibbemeyer picked up 25 kills and 13 blocks for the Gophers, setting a new school record for blocks, with 545. âÄúEvery time I go out on the court, IâÄôm going to try and do my best,âÄù said Gibbemeyer, who missed five weeks after injuring her wrist Sept 8. With injuries plaguing the Gophers this season, GibbemeyerâÄôs return has been crucial, for both her skills and leadership. âÄúWe just really have to keep looking forward, we canâÄôt dwell on the mistakes weâÄôve made and the games weâÄôve lost,âÄù she said. âÄúThatâÄôs what we did at Purdue. They have great fans and they are loud, and we just had to fight through that.âÄù She added: âÄúIâÄôm pretty proud at how we handled that situation.âÄù Still two wins away from tournament eligibility, the GophersâÄô remaining matches will be challenging âÄî they still have to face Big Ten leaders Illinois, Penn State and Michigan. ThereâÄôs good news, though, for fans who want to see the Gophers tournament-bound: Four of the six matches Minnesota hosts at home. âÄúItâÄôs great for us,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄúHaving home-court advantage has really helped us.âÄù