Lambeau Field wasn’t the only place that was packed with Minnesota and Wisconsin sports fans this weekend.
The Sports Pavilion was rocking Friday night as the Gophers volleyball team upset 15th-ranked Wisconsin in a wild four-game showdown.
From the Badgers opening first point to a block by Nicole Branagh that sealed the win two hours and 18 minutes later, the 1,591 fans played an important role in Minnesota’s big win.
Gophers captain Linda Shudlick said the team was inspired by the fans after a quiet first game.
“As the match went on, the crowd, the enthusiasm that (the fans) brought up for us was like there was a seventh player out there,” Shudlick said. “When we were playing back and forth, they got into it and we got into it. It was great to have a crowd that was right in there with us.”
Gophers fans didn’t need the messages from the scoreboard that said “Rock the Pavilion,” they knew exactly how to act, thanks to some spectacular play on the court.
At one point, after a rare kill by setter Lindsey Berg, the Minnesota student section stood up and bowed to the Gophers.
When the fourth game rolled around, and with a 2-1 lead, Minnesota fans knew they were witnessing something special.
After trading points early, Minnesota broke a 3-3 tie and exploded for seven consecutive points.
The fans erupted in celebration, and Wisconsin couldn’t regain any of its momentum. The Gophers easily won the fourth game 15-9 to complete the dramatic win over their arch rivals.
A clearly disappointed Wisconsin coach Pete Waite downplayed the fans’ factor on the match.
“I don’t think (the crowd) made much of a difference,” Waite said. “We play in front of big crowds and the team is used to it.”
While loud crowds are normally reserved for the men’s basketball games at neighboring Williams Arena, Nicole Branagh and the rest of the Gophers welcomed the crowd support.
“People were into the game.” Branagh said. “We were on fire, they were on fire. It is great to know that all those people are supporting you.”
If the wild Friday night at the Pavilion proved anything, it’s that the sports rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin is not only played on the football field.
John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]