Minnesota’s road success ends at Purdue

Minnesota volleyball lost in four sets at Purdue on Saturday.

Charlie Armitz

The No. 14 Minnesota volleyball team lost in four sets at No. 12 Purdue on Saturday night in West Lafayette, Ind., ending its three-match road winning streak.

The good news for the Gophers is that they outplayed the Boilermakers for one and a half sets.

The bad news is that they barely looked competitive for the other two and a half.

âÄúWe broke down and werenâÄôt able to recover,âÄù interim head coach Laura Bush said, âÄúOur serve-receive was struggling, and then weâÄôd get back into a rhythm but not get a good attack. It was a series of things. Not everything broke down, but nothing was ever complete.âÄù

MinnesotaâÄôs streak of 11 consecutive wins against Purdue also ended with its 25-16, 20-25, 25-19, 25-14 defeat.

After letting a close first set slip away, the Gophers won the second set and looked on track to take a 2-1 sets lead. They led 16-12 in the third set.

Then the Boilermakers took a timeout and stormed back onto the court with a purpose.

Purdue was quick to erase that lead and force two Minnesota timeouts, waking a Holloway Gymnasium crowd of 2,692 in the process.

âÄúThe place was just out of control loud,âÄù senior libero Jessica Granquist said. âÄúFans got so crazy, everyone was into it âÄî it was a great match.âÄù

The Boilermakers ended the third set with a 13-3 run, and then began the fourth set on a 10-2 run. The Gophers cut PurdueâÄôs lead to 17-12 before losing eight of the last 10 points of the match.

âÄúWe were like a rollercoaster,âÄù sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman said. âÄúWe never really fully brought it together except in the second [set]. We struggled throughout the whole match.âÄù

Wittman led the Gophers with 15 kills and added 11 digs. She had 12 kills and three errors through two sets, but finished the match with 15 kills and 14 errors, hitting .020.

âÄúThey had [two] blockers on me every single time,âÄù Wittman said. âÄúThey were able to read where [setter Mia Tabberson] was setting to. It makes it really hard to find where to hit the ball when you have everyone on you.âÄù

Wittman has been MinnesotaâÄôs offensive leader all season, but lately, she has struggled to find the court. In her last three matches, she has committed 35 errors while hitting .138.

âÄúYou have to make errors to improve your game,âÄù Wittman said. âÄúI think thatâÄôs where IâÄôm at right now âÄî IâÄôm trying to be more aggressive, and the errors are only going to make me better as the season goes on.âÄù

Wittman was blocked seven times against Purdue. As a team, Minnesota was blocked 14 times.

The Gophers managed just three blocks of their own against the BoilermakersâÄô attack.

Minnesota has been out-blocked 61.5 to 19 in its losses to the four teams ahead of it in the Big Ten standings âÄî Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State and Purdue.

Part of that, Bush said, is that the team lacks the ability to make adjustments to opponentsâÄô blocking schemes.

âÄúWe have seven to eight kids to play,âÄù Bush said. âÄúWe donâÄôt have a large bench. The adjustments that you make âÄî if you donâÄôt get a [substitute] to upgrade you, you canâÄôt do it.âÄù

With those four losses, plus one against Ohio State, Minnesota sits in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Big Ten at 5-5.

Last season, the Gophers held the same record at the halfway point of conference play, and then won nine of 10 games heading into the NCAA Tournament.

To match that mark again, Minnesota will need to defeat at least two of the conferenceâÄôs top three teams. Nebraska (10-0, 1st place), Illinois (9-1, 2nd), and Penn State (8-2, 3rd) will each play Minnesota once during the second half of 2011.

The Gophers visit Northwestern (2-8) and Illinois next weekend to wrap up a grueling stretch in which they will have played eight of 10 matches on the road.