Gophers look to move forward

Minnesota must try to maintain focus with Michigan and Michigan State coming to town.

Gophers look to move forward

Aleutian Calabay

This weekend was supposed to be all about the No. 9 Minnesota volleyball team taking on conference rival Michigan at Williams Arena on Saturday night. Instead, the focus has now become a question of if the Gophers will be able to move forward without their leading scorer junior Brook Dieter . The surprising news of DieterâÄôs choice to leave the team came out Tuesday night, just three days after Dieter had been inexplicably held out of last SaturdayâÄôs match against Northwestern. âÄúWhen she came in to resign, we discussed everything that she felt, and when she left the meeting she said âÄòfine.âÄô ThatâÄôs all I know,âÄù Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said. Now the Gophers must find a way to replace DieterâÄôs offensive firepower. In 2009, Dieter had game averages of 3.94 kills and 4.55 points. The initial answer for the Gophers will be shifting some defense to offense as junior Hailey Cowles will be moved from defensive specialist to outside hitter. Cowles provided reason for optimism when she took over the position against Northwestern. She finished the match with 12 kills to go along with 19 digs. Minnesota will also turn to freshman Katherine Harms to play a more prominent role in the offense. Harms is averaging 0.86 kills per game so far this season in limited playing time, but she came to the Gophers with impressive offensive credentials. She had 541 kills in her senior year at St. Michael-Albertville High School, making her the No. 7-ranked prospect in the nation by prepvolleyball.com . Even if the Gophers keep offensive continuity, the loss of a key player can still affect the team in numerous ways. However, the Gophers will try to maintain focus moving forward. Hebert said it shouldnâÄôt be too tough to keep distractions at bay. âÄúThis is a player that chose to leave. ItâÄôs not controversial or anything,âÄù he said. âÄúOur players are dealing with it in fine fashion. We had a great practice yesterday, and weâÄôll have some more great practices this week.âÄù Distracted or not, the Gophers have two big home games this weekend. They play Michigan State at the Sports Pavilion on Friday and No. 11 Michigan at Williams Arena on Saturday. Both matches will be at 7 p.m. Michigan will provide both a big challenge and a big opportunity for Minnesota. The Gophers, despite their No. 9 ranking, have only had one definitive big game victory this season. That win came in early September when they beat then-ranked No. 12 Iowa State in four sets. Minnesota hopes to use the large Williams Arena crowd to its advantage as the team looks to validate its position in the Big Ten with a win over the rival Wolverines. âÄúMichigan is always a good matchup,âÄù junior Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúI think weâÄôre similar in the way we play. WeâÄôve been rivals for the past number of years, and it will definitely be a huge match especially with it being played at Williams with the big crowd. I canâÄôt wait.âÄù Michigan came into Big Ten play ranked No. 6, boasting a 12-1 record. However, the Wolverines have stumbled early on in Big Ten play, losing to Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State. Despite the losses, Michigan possesses a very solid and clean moving offensive attack that is first in the Big Ten in service aces, second in kills and third in assists. Before the Gophers showdown against Michigan, they face a tough test in Michigan State. The Spartans were a perfect 12-0 coming into conference play, including a five-set victory over then-No. 12 USC. Michigan State climbed as high as No. 16 in the rankings. However, Michigan State has fallen off greatly since the start of Big Ten play, going just 2-5 to start the conference season. The Spartans lone bright spot was a five-set win over Illinois in early October. âÄúMichigan State in my mind is way better than their record. Last year they gave us two very difficult matches,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThey brought everybody back and are even better this year; I expect this to be a very even match for us.âÄù