Gophers knock off No. 6 Northern Iowa in Border Battle

Jeff Barthel

With one mighty swing, Minnesota volleyball outside hitter Cassie Busse showed that indeed the Gophers are back.

Busse’s kill in the fourth game of Wednesday’s match against Northern Iowa sealed a Minnesota win.

After falling from No. 6 to No. 22 in the polls since the season started last month, the Gophers (4-5) rallied to defeat sixth-ranked Northern Iowa 25-30, 30-24, 30-28, 30-27 at the Mayo Civic Center.

“It was a tremendous win for us,” coach Mike Hebert said. “Our confidence has been down for a little bit for the first part of the season. (This win is) a real testament because we have nothing but respect for Northern Iowa. I’m really pleased that we beat what I consider to be a pretty scrappy defensive team.”

The Panthers was the highest-ranked opponent the Gophers have defeated since Dec. 5, 1993, when they knocked off then-No. 5 Santa Barbara.

But for a while, anyway, it appeared Minnesota would be headed to yet another loss to a ranked foe this season.

The Gophers dropped the first game despite jumping out to a 17-13 lead. Northern Iowa (7-2) went on to notch 10 of the next 15 points and the final six of the game to pull ahead 1-0.

Game two also started in Northern Iowa’s favor as it jumped out to a 15-7 lead. Minnesota flexed its muscle from there, however, and galloped on a 16-4 run en route to the 30-24 win.

The Panthers were held to a .071 hitting percentage for the game, while the Gophers managed a .163 clip.

“I really wanted to take one from them,” said outside hitter Erin Martin, an Ames, Iowa, native. “I’ve played with, for or against all of them (Panthers’ players) a lot.”

After Minnesota won the third game by a narrow 30-28 score – in which the lead changed hands 12 times and there were 12 ties – the fourth game proved to be the most exciting.

The Gophers found themselves down 15-11 in the game and trimmed the score to 17-16 before the Panthers went on a roll. Northern Iowa went up 23-16 before Minnesota called a time out and came back to the court blazing. The Gophers scored nine of the next 11 points of the game to tie the affair at 25-25. Down the stretch, Busse and Trisha Bratford’s kills inched Minnesota to match point and ultimately won on Busse’s blast.

Busse, a tri-captain, became the 14th player in Minnesota history to amass 1,000 kills in her career, notching her 1,000th in game three. Bratford also set a milestone, setting a new rally-scoring team record with five solo blocks.

For the match, Erin Martin led the Gophers with 20 kills. Busse finished with 18 while Bratford notched 17 kills.

Reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year Paula Gentil, who was expected to miss the match with a shoulder injury played in the match and led the Gophers with 27 digs.

Gentil said her shoulder is still bruised, but she played for the good of the team.

“We’re all out here just trying to have fun,” Gentil said. “(Playing through injury) is just part of the game.”