Upset-minded MSU, Michigan offer unique test

The Gophers will play at Michigan State and Michigan this weekend.

by Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team has a recent habit of facing teams that upset a top-ranked team the weekend before.

That’s mostly because the Gophers follow Nebraska on the schedules of Big Ten teams. The Cornhuskers have lost three of their last four games in the conference schedule.

Friday and Saturday, Minnesota will face Michigan State and Michigan on the road. Both the Spartans and the Wolverines beat Nebraska in five sets last weekend.

“It’s surprising because Nebraska’s a very strong team,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “But it just shows you that on any given night, anyone in this conference can get into trouble.”

The Cornhuskers fell from No. 4 to No. 9 after their losses. The No. 10 Gophers will look to avoid a similar fate against the unranked Michiganders.

Both Michigan and Michigan State are 7-7 in the Big Ten, with 19-9 and 19-7 respective overall records.

Minnesota is currently second in the conference at 11-3 (20-5 overall), while the Wolverines and Spartans share sixth.

Freshman outside hitter Daly Santana said she is proud of her team’s second-place standing.

“For the whole team, it’s something really good,” Santana said. “It’s something that we’ve been working for, and I think we will keep working hard so we can just stay there or maybe improve.”

A month ago, Minnesota beat Michigan in four sets and Michigan State in five sets.

The Gophers may be held back by their opponents’ strategy to focus on blocking senior outside hitter Katherine Harms. Harms usually leads the team in kills, but Penn State kept her in check last weekend.

“To a certain extent, it can be frustrating,” Harms said. “But I also know that if I’m going to have a double-block a majority of the time, then that’s going to leave my other hitters open.”

McCutcheon said he isn’t surprised that teams are finally figuring out how to block his star hitter.

“I just keep talking to her about the fact that she’s got to be patient and just keep finding different ways to kill the ball,” McCutcheon said. “That you don’t always have to hit it hard to get it done. You can work it around the block a little bit, maybe work the outside edges.”

Santana said the team knows how to attack when Harms isn’t at her best.

“We practice to cover … her if the teams just concentrate on her,” Santana said. “We’ve been practicing a lot too, just playing with the hands of the block, and I think she will be able to use that if teams are just blocking really good.”