Minnesota’s volleyball team started the season 0-3 after a disappointing three-match sweep August 29-31 in Hawaii.
Perhaps some of the Hawaiian sand found its way back to Minneapolis.
The 13th-ranked Gophers felt defeat once again to open the Nike Invitational over the weekend. But the team rebounded with two victories.
“We’ve finally begun to play with some control,” coach Mike Hebert said. “It’s great to get into the win column; what can I say?”
Minnesota (2-4) achieved its first victories Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.
In the day’s nightcap, Minnesota defeated Marquette (2-4). The Gophers won the match with ease as they coasted to a straight set victory of 30-26, 30-24 and 30-26.
The match featured a solid play by junior outside hitter Trisha Bratford and freshman middle blocker Meredith Nelson.
The front-court combination of the two players led to 23 kills in the match. Bratford led the team with 13 kills, while Nelson posted a 0.350 hitting percentage.
Nelson was excited about the victories and playing her first matches on the team’s home court.
“For me, it was about playing comfortably,” Nelson said. “In Hawaii I was really scared; I think that always happens when you get in your first match or a new thing.”
Bratford was also happy with the team’s victories.
“I felt really comfortable being at home,” said Bratford, a returning starter. “There’s nothing like being at home in front of your fans and being in your gym.”
Senior middle blocker Cassie Busse added 12 kills and seven service aces, while junior setter Lindsey Taatjes notched 44 assists.
Earlier in the day, the Gophers took on Dayton (4-2). Hoping to remain undefeated in the season at the time, Dayton was ready to jump on the Gophers. Minnesota, on the other hand, was merely trying to put an end to its early season struggles.
The Gophers began the match with intense energy. They came out of their huddle with smiles and enthusiasm. Junior Erin Martin led the upbeat entrance.
“We know we have to keep smiling and keep having fun,” Martin said. “That’s the key for us.”
Play against Dayton began with the Flyers taking an early 3-1 lead. The Gophers quickly recovered, however, and strung together eight consecutive points. Nelson’s kills powered the action. She finished with 11 kills in the match.
The Gophers won the first game by a score of 30-22. The final point was made by Busse’s block that went off a Flyer defender and out through Dayton’s backcourt.
After wining game one, Minnesota kept up its aggressive play as the team was able to take games two and three as well. The team’s flushing of the Flyers 30-22, 30-23, 30-21 marked the team’s first overall win, as well as the team’s first straight set victory of the young season.
Busse paced Minnesota with 16 kills while Bratford, Marci Peniata and Paula Gentil each had 12 digs apiece.
Friday night, the Gophers lost to the unranked Kansas Jayhawks in five games.
Kansas (5-1) entered Friday’s match with a 2-12 all-time record against Minnesota. The Jayhawks’ sixth year coach, Ray Bechard, had never beaten the Gophers.
The Jayhawks brought a highly potent attack led by junior middle blocker Ashley Michaels and freshman outside hitter Janaina Correa.
Michaels, who finished the match with an impressive 0.391 hitting percentage in the Jayhawks victory, was beaming after the win.
“It was pretty sweet,” Michaels said. “Beating a team like this feels good, especially coming on their home court.”
Correa, arguably the Jayhawks star player, added a nice performance as well. The freshman phenomenon from Brazil finished the match with 20 kills and 12 digs.
Busse and Bratford led the way for the Gophers, smacking a combined 37 kills.
Minnesota will now look to continue its winning ways in Florida.
The Gophers travel to Gainesville this weekend to take on the hosting Gators, ranked third in the nation, behind Xavier and Florida A & M.