Gophers head back to Indiana, where Final Four run began

Minnesota lost two matches in the state to open its Big Ten season last year before streaking to the Final Four.

by Kent Erdahl

Minnesota’s volleyball team has every reason to look past this weekend’s road trip at Indiana and Purdue.

After all, the schools are the last pair of conference opponents the Gophers have yet to face, and their records against the same competition are laughable – a combined 4-12 against the same opponents the No. 2 Gophers have a 7-1 record against.

Despite these numbers, Minnesota players and coaches said they’re not about to take anything for granted. The Gophers know firsthand how Big Ten road trips can defy logic.

Minnesota (18-2, 7-1 Big Ten) took the same trip at the beginning of last season. The Gophers, at the time, were the conference favorites. But after a pair of losses at the hands of the Hoosiers and Boilermakers, the team was left reeling.

“It helped us to realize that, sure, we were Minnesota. But we couldn’t just show up and wear the shirts, we had to come out and play too,” junior libero Paula Gentil said.

Although Gentil acknowledged the road trip caused the team to eventually lose the Big Ten title, she said last year’s trip helped the Gophers find their identity for the rest of the season.

After that weekend, Minnesota lost only four more times and went to the first Final Four in program history. The inspired play has continued into this season, and it is evident in the Gophers’ 22-4 conference mark since the sweep.

“I don’t think that it will happen this year with this team because of the amount of leadership we have,” senior outside hitter Trisha Bratford said. “We know someone is going to step up either on or off the court and make a statement.”

Bratford’s confidence is characteristic of the team’s outlook this time around. The players said they are preparing very seriously and working on areas to improve, despite being huge favorites.

Coach Mike Hebert said this team is definitely better than last year’s at handling these types of matches, which it is expected to win. But, he said, both of this weekend’s opponents are more dangerous than their records indicate.

“I look at the teams, and on tape they look really good,” Hebert said. “I’m not sure how they’re posting the records they are, because they look a lot better than that.”

If either Indiana (7-12, 1-7) or Purdue (10-8, 3-5) actually does pull off an upset, the result will likely cost Minnesota a chance at the conference title again.

Gentil said she doesn’t expect that to happen this time around, but she said that if the Gophers do fold, they’ll only have themselves to blame.

“I used to say that if you miss one, that’s OK, it’s a mistake. If you miss twice, there’s something going on in there. But if you miss three times, you’re just stupid,” Gentil said. “That’s not what this team is about, and we know we’re not going to let that happen again this year.”