Lack of variety on offense hampers Gophers on road trip

Minnesota depended on Erin Martin and Trisha Bratford too much vs. Wisconsin.

Kent Erdahl

MADISON, Wis. – Throughout Minnesota’s volleyball team’s nail-biting five-game loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, no players from either team were called on more than outside hitters Trisha Bratford and Erin Martin.

Therein lay the problem.

The Minnesota duo combined for 34 more attempts than any other pair on the court and 50 of the team’s 82 kills. But as the Gophers desperately clung to life, trailing 16-15 in the final game, their lack of offensive variation did them in.

Bratford, who was in the game for the final rally, blasted three straight attacks into the Wisconsin defense. But the Badgers absorbed each one and finally put the game away on a kill by their own outside hitter, Maria Carlini.

“Kudos to them for being there to dig them,” Bratford said. “Tonight, they didn’t fall, but maybe another night they will.”

Those swings didn’t fall for a reason – Wisconsin was ready for them.

Throughout the night, Minnesota struggled with its passing game, and that translated into broken plays and desperate sets and passes to the outside. But Martin and Bratford didn’t want to let that stop the team from winning.

“I didn’t anticipate swinging that many times, but if our passing isn’t on, that will happen,” Martin said. “I think (Bratford) and I both thought this is the last time we play this team, and we wanted to do what we could.”

It looked as if that effort would be enough to pull the Gophers through after the third game.

With the score tied 21-21 and the match tied at a game apiece, the Gophers climbed on the backs of their outside hitters. Bratford and Martin converted seven of the last nine points to give Minnesota the 30-28 win.

That tally was even more impressive because they weren’t even on the court at the same time. Martin recorded the first five of those kills, and Bratford finished the game with two of her own.

But despite the game win, which gave the Gophers a 2-1 advantage, Wisconsin regrouped and turned its focus to stopping Minnesota’s limited options.

Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said the effort of Martin and Bratford from the left side of the net kept the team in the game. But he said the lack of balance finally caught up with the team.

Although Hebert said he couldn’t really fault anyone,

the production of the middle blockers, although limited, might have made the difference.

Although middle blockers Jessica Byrnes and Meredith Nelson only totaled 26 attempts, they combined for a .121 hitting percentage.

“When we don’t pass well, it’s hard to utilize our middle attack,” Hebert said. “Our middles weren’t necessarily a no-show, but they weren’t what they have been the last few weeks.”