Gophers split weekend road trip

Minnesota loses to Illinois but comes back to beat Northwestern.

Aleutian Calabay

The No. 6 Minnesota volleyball team is beginning to make a name for itself in the Big Ten. Unfortunately for Gophers fans, that name is streaky. The Gophers opened conference play on a tear, winning their first four matches without losing a set. That winning streak came to a screeching halt when they lost in straight sets at home against Penn State last weekend. Minnesota took to the road this weekend looking to bounce back and prove they are among the Big Ten elite as they faced off Friday against No. 10 Illinois. Instead the Gophers were shut out by the Illini, losing in three sets by scores of 25-19, 27-25 and 25-22. The Gophers then traveled to Northwestern with the chance to end the road trip on a positive note against one of the worst teams in the conference. The match didn’t start out the way Minnesota would have liked as they lost the first set, pushing their losing streak to seven straight sets. Then an adjusted lineup that started freshman Mia Tabberson at setter and sophomore Jessica Granquist in the back court began clicking as Minnesota won the next three sets to take the match 23-25, 25-18, 25-21 and 25-23. âÄúOverall it was a decent weekend on the road,âÄù Gophers head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúWe came out a little flat against Illinois, but we began to crank it up against Northwestern.âÄù Despite the three-set loss to Illinois (14-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten), the Gophers (15-5, 6-2) had several solid performances including four players with double-digit kills. That crew was led by junior Brook Dieter who had 13 kills . Sophomore Ariana Filho added 11 kills, and junior Lauren Gibbemeyer and freshman Tabitha Love each finished with 10 kills. Senior Christine Tan also had a solid defensive effort with 20 digs. The shutout score against Illinois âÄî as it was against Penn State âÄî is misleading to how close of a match it was. The Illini had 49 total kills to the GophersâÄô 48, and Illinois outhit Minnesota 0.273 to 0.241 . However, the Gophers outblocked Illinois 6-4. The Gophers never got out of the gate in the first set as the Illini continually pulled away for the opening set victory 25-19. The second set, on the other hand, was a very different story as the two teams battled back and forth. The set featured 20 ties. After tying the score at 24, the Gophers fought off three set points before finally finding themselves unable to rally, losing the set 27-25. The Gophers were down for much of the third set, but a couple late runs led by Love, who had eight kills in the set, brought the Gophers to 23-21. But the Illini soon closed out the set, winning 25-22. âÄúWe still are very positive, and we still have a chance at the conference,âÄù junior Hailey Cowles said. âÄúWe had a little setback against Illinois, but they are a very good team. It was nice going up against Northwestern after losing six straight games to get some confidence back and prove we can still win.âÄù Minnesota once again had four players finish with double-digit kills against Northwestern (11-9, 2-6). This time the Gophers were led by Cowles, who displayed a combination of offensive and defensive prowess with 12 kills to go along with 19 digs . Senior Megan Wilson and Filho each had 11 kills, and Gibbemeyer finished the match with 10 kills and seven blocks. Tabberson did an outstanding job setting up the offense with 36 assists. The Gophers led the first set by as many as four at 14-10, but never closed out the Wildcats as they climbed back into the set, eventually breaking a 22-all tie by winning three of the last four points to steal the set 25-23. The second set looked to be playing out much the same way, with both teams locked at 17. This time it was the Gophers who took control, taking advantage of several Northwestern errors to win eight of the last nine points and take the set 25-18. The Gophers never trailed in the third set, cruising to a quick 25-21 victory. Northwestern continued to battle in the fourth set, taking a commanding 12-6 lead. Then Minnesota fought back, winning 12 of 15 points to take an 18-15 lead. The Wildcats didnâÄôt quit and took a 22-21 lead, but once again Minnesota came right back, winning four of the last five points to win the set and the match 25-23. âÄúNorthwestern is a much better team than people in these parts think they are,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThere are no bad teams in the conference this year. Northwestern was certainly a very capable opponent and that match could have gone either way.âÄù Minnesota comes back home this weekend, first playing Michigan State on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion, and then hosting Michigan on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena.