Volleyball sweeps No. 13 Badgers

Tim Klobuchar

After Minnesota’s convincing win over No. 13 Wisconsin on Wednesday night at the Sports Pavillion, Badgers coach John Cook said his team’s mistakes were responsible for the pounding it endured.
Of Gophers outside hitter Sarah Pearman, who had 14 kills in the 15-5, 15-12, 15-12 sweep, Cook said, “There’s no way she’s that good a hitter if we’re playing the way we should.”
When told of Cook’s comment, Pearman said, “What a nice thing to say.”
But she did have an explanation for her strong performance.
“Becky (Bauer, Minnesota’s setter) did a good job of spreading the ball around,” Pearman said. “They weren’t closing the block at all, so I had a lot of one-on-one chances. And for a shorter (5-foot-9) hitter, that’s what I need.”
The win put Minnesota (19-7 overall, 10-3 in the Big Ten) into third place by itself. The Gophers moved a half-game in front of Ohio State and a full game ahead of Wisconsin (19-4, 9-4).
Pearman was one of three Gophers in double figures in kills, and that statistic alone showed why Minnesota won the match. When the teams met for the first time this season in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 9, Wisconsin took advantage of the Gophers’ one-player offensive attack in Katrien DeDecker.
The Badgers threw most of their blocking efforts at DeDecker, and the strategy worked as Minnesota hit for its lowest percentage of the season in a lopsided three-game sweep.
On Wednesday, the Gophers offense was nearly impeccable.
“The players were motivated keenly not to play as poorly as they did last time,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said. “We worked very hard this week on our offensive scheme, not to hit into Wisconsin’s block.”
Hebert credited DeDecker and Pearman for excellent passing to Bauer, who in turn made good decisions setting the ball to different hitters. He poked fun at the team’s tendency to saturate its offense with DeDecker hits, saying, “If she goes to the restroom, we set her there.”
But the Gophers’ concentration on balance paid off, as Bauer had what Hebert called her best match of the season.
“When everyone’s hitting the ball that well,” said Bauer, “it makes me look pretty good.”
In any case, the diverse offense was a key ingredient to the victory. DeDecker still led the team with 20 kills, but Jane Passer was close behind with 16, two away from her career-high.
Minnesota also out-blocked Wisconsin as a team 11-8, a stat Hebert said was “a shocker.”
It wasn’t a shock to some of his players, however.
“I’m not really surprised,” Passer said. “We’ve been focusing on blocking all week, and it showed this time.”
The roles were reversed from the last match, when Minnesota was totally dominated by Wisconsin’s physical play. This time, though, the Gophers picked the Badgers apart, both with big spikes and tips over the net, including Bauer’s on match point. Revenge on their biggest rival had to be on Minnesota’s mind.
“Because of how they beat us last time, this win is very satisfying,” Bauer said. “We were tied with them and Ohio State, and now they’re below us.”
As Pearman and Passer walked out of the media room, Pearman said to Passer, “I can’t believe he said that about me,” referring to Cook’s earlier comment. Just then Cook himself, who no one, at least Pearman, knew was still on the premises, became visible. He was headed out of the room at the same time as the two Gophers. Once outside the room and away from Cook, all Pearman could do was laugh.

Wisconsin 5 12 12 — 0
Gophers 15 15 15 — 3

Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 20, Passer 16, Pearman 14, Baynes 7, Fiamengo 6, Bauer 4. Digs: Passer 13, Pearman 11, Baynes 10, Fiamengo 10. Assists: Bauer 52.
T — 1:43. A — 1,428.