Minnesota heads to No. 12 Purdue

The No. 14 Gophers could jump ahead of the Boilermakers in the rankings with an upset.

by Charlie Armitz

Gophers interim volleyball head coach Laura Bush said prior to the start of Big Ten play that the conferenceâÄôs first few weeks would âÄúfilterâÄù the top teams.

She was spot-on.

After four and a half weeks of conference play, two teams have separated themselves from the pack: Illinois (9-0) and Nebraska (9-0), with third-place Penn State (7-2) expected to remain in the hunt for a Big Ten title.

The conferenceâÄôs two other contenders âÄî Purdue (6-3) and Minnesota (5-4) âÄî each have 0-3 records against the top three schools.

On Saturday, the Gophers and Boilermakers could be playing for a fourth-place spot in the Big Ten at the halfway point of the Big Ten schedule. Michigan State (5-4) is also in that conversation.

Minnesota and Purdue have similar styles, and both feature potential All-American outside hitters.

PurdueâÄôs Ariel Turner leads the Big Ten in kills per set (4.75) and points per set (5.45) and ranks third in attacks (903).

MinnesotaâÄôs Ashley Wittman ranks second in kills per set (4.59), second in points per set (5.08) and fifth in attacks (801).

Both hitters have been the focal point of opposing defenses, and both have handled that challenge well.

TurnerâÄôs hitting percentage of .247 is commendable considering her high number of attempts. WittmanâÄôs hitting percentage of .267 is even more impressive, although the sophomore has only hit .219 in Big Ten matches.

While Bush praised TurnerâÄôs play, she said the team must stick to a balanced game plan.

âÄúYou canâÄôt just key in on one hitter,âÄù Bush said. âÄúIf you key in on one hitter, other hitters can get hot. ItâÄôs still [important to] prepare for an overall system offensively and defensively to counter Purdue.âÄù

Bush has experienced that with her own hitters. Middle blockers Ariana Filho and Tori Dixon, as well as outside hitter Katherine Harms, have stepped up a number of times in 2011 when Wittman has had an off-night.

Wittman was headed for an off-night Wednesday at Wisconsin, but came up big with six kills in the fifth set to cinch the GophersâÄô five-set win.