Gophers blow late lead in Madison

Minnesota led by two games to one in Friday’s match against the Badgers.

by C.J. Spang

Going into Friday’s Big Ten opener, Minnesota’s volleyball coach Mike Hebert said he would be “favoring (Wisconsin) in this matchup.”

Much to the Gophers’ dismay, Hebert was right.

Minnesota’s volleyball team lost a five-game heartbreaker to the 10th-ranked Badgers but came back Saturday to defeat Northwestern in straight games.

“Offensively, we didn’t have a rhythm,” Hebert said. “We had plenty of opportunities and didn’t convert, which ultimately spelled out our doom.”

Minnesota was solid in all other aspects, Hebert explained. They served, passed and defended well but were unable to convert on offense.

“We matched their offensive intensity with good defense,” he said. “If we had executed at all, we stood a chance to win.”

The Gophers came out strong and pounded the Badgers in the first game, 30-19.

“The first thing we said after the first game was, ‘that wasn’t Wisconsin, and they wouldn’t let that happen again,'” senior Paula Gentil said. “We knew it would be long night.”

Gentil was right, and the real Badgers showed up in games four and five, coming back from deficits in both games to win the match.

The game was virtually a repeat of last year’s game in Madison, when Minnesota blew a two-games-to-one lead.

“The repeat of last year didn’t enter our minds,” Gentil said. “I don’t know what happened, but when they gave a push, we didn’t push back.”

The Gophers put the game in history books right away. The team said they would rather lose early in the season and have a chance to make adjustments and improve.

Hebert said they will have to go back and reassemble their offensive foundation and get it in the right direction.

But Minnesota righted the ship the very next night in their three-game romp over Northwestern; 30-20, 30-26, 30-22.

When asked if the loss to Wisconsin fired his team up, Hebert explained that isn’t how the Gophers operate.

“We take each match as a different life,” Hebert said. “We didn’t look at it as trying to regain momentum. I don’t think that’s how you build a team emotionally.”

Even so, the Gophers accomplished their goal of beating Northwestern, coming off a tough loss the previous day.

“Coming off the match against Wisconsin, everyone wanted to win,” junior Malama Peniata said. “But we didn’t look back on it, we were just determined to win.”