There were plenty of reasons why Minnesota’s volleyball team could have tripped up against Cincinnati at the Sports Pavilion on Monday night.
The Gophers had already gone undefeated and won their third consecutive tournament over the weekend. They even secured the No. 1 ranking in the USA Today/CSTV coaches’ poll for the second week in a row before taking the floor.
To top it off, the usually raucous Sports Pavilion crowd was smaller than usual – perhaps because of another Minnesota team playing on Monday night.
With all of these potential excuses at its disposal, all it took for Minnesota to cruise past Cincinnati in three games was a slightly less critical fall.
Senior libero Paula Gentil helped the Gophers recover from a sloppy first game with a wicked serving barrage in game two that included three consecutive aces and a twisted ankle.
Gentil started the game serving and didn’t give up her duty until the Gophers had a 10-0 lead. Gentil used a dominating jump-serve during the first six points, but after she had recorded her second-straight ace, she fell to the floor, clutching her ankle.
Instead of leaving the game, Gentil simply walked in a circle, winced in pain and quickly served another ace flat-footed.
“It was unfortunate that (my ankle) rolled and I had to stop jumping,” said Gentil, who added yet another ace later in the game. “I’m not that good of a server from the floor because I really can’t move, but for some reason, it was dropping for me.”
Erin Martin, who has claimed three consecutive tournament most valuable player honors, also proved her worth in the second game by recording a .600 hitting percentage. She scored a total of eight points, thanks to six kills and two solo blocks.
The performances from two of the team’s senior leaders were critical, because Minnesota looked to be in for a long error-ridden match after the first game came to an end.
The Gophers were visibly flat in the game. Before eventually prevailing 30-24, Minnesota and Cincinnati had combined for 12 hitting errors, six service errors and two blocking errors.
“We weren’t playing up to our potential, and we knew that, so during the break between the first and second games the coaches told us we could play better, and we just went out and did it,” Martin said.
It’s an easy explanation, and the Gophers made it look just as easy. Martin and Gentil combined for seven of the first 10 points in the second games, and the two finished with 12 of 30.
In the final game, Minnesota picked up where it left off. The Gophers took the game 30-19. Trisha Bratford paced the team with six kills, and Martin hit .500 with three more kills.
Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said he was impressed with the team’s effort, considering the way the match began.
“We got off to a very sluggish start, I felt we were out of position a lot and our general alertness was on the low end,” Hebert said. “I thought in games two and three we clearly snapped out of the fog.”
Though Minnesota regrouped quickly, Cincinnati continued reeling until the end. The Bearcats committed 26 hitting errors, and the Gophers held them to a dismal .046 hitting percentage.
The win officially makes Minnesota the team to beat when it begins Big Ten play against Michigan State and Michigan at home this weekend.
“It was important to us that we established ourselves in the nonconference portion of our schedule,” Hebert said. “Obviously, we’ve gone undefeated (in the past three weeks), and it’s exceeded all of our expectations.”