Two big wins make Gophers tournament eligible

Senior middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer plays against Michigan Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

Erin Westover

Senior middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer plays against Michigan Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

Lindsay Guentzel

It wasnâÄôt a position the No. 22 Gophers hoped to find themselves in. After upsetting 16th-ranked Michigan in a 3-0 sweep on Friday, the GophersâÄô Saturday match against Michigan State went to five sets, a situation the Gophers had yet to find success in this season. Sitting at 0-4 in five-set matches âÄî and with only two weeks left until NCAA tournament selections âÄî the Gophers knew it was time to end the streak that had been following them all season. Jumping out to a 9-4 lead, Minnesota didnâÄôt let up or leave room for a comeback, cruising 15-5 for a 29-31, 25-20, 25-23, 22-25 and 15-5 victory. âÄú[Michigan StateâÄôs] very athletic,âÄù said head coach Mike Hebert, who knew the match-up was going to be a long battle for the Gophers. âÄúThey took advantage of some things that we werenâÄôt doing well, and they got the ball to the right people at the right time.âÄù He added: âÄúHowever, we played better. This is our first five-set match win of the season, and we feel pretty good about that.âÄù The win didnâÄôt come without its setbacks. Junior libero Jessica Granquist came out of the match as a precaution after falling during the opening minutes of the first set. While she was ready to come back in later in the set, NCAA rules state a libero cannot come back into a set after having been subbed-out, a delay Hebert said played a part in Michigan StateâÄôs first-set victory. âÄúSheâÄôs a player that hasnâÄôt been off the court all season,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWith our small roster, you move one piece and all the other pieces have to move as well. It was a big surprise when that happened and forced us into putting people into positions that they hadnâÄôt played before.âÄù While GranquistâÄôs injury only kept her off the court for one set, the Gophers have another obstacle to overcome as the season winds down âÄî the possibility of losing sophomore Tabitha Love, who injured her hand during a blocking exercise Wednesday. Love only appeared in the fifth set against Michigan State, and Hebert said the teamâÄôs trainer told him that she is having pins inserted into her injured finger on Monday. âÄúShe can probably play,âÄù he said. âÄúThe question is, can she block? [Saturday] she had to go out and block with one hand and thatâÄôs not to our advantage.âÄù Injuries aside, it was an impressive weekend for freshman Tori Dixon who notched 26 kills, 10 digs and three blocks in her first career start on the left side âÄî a position she wasnâÄôt very familiar with going into the weekendâÄôs victories. âÄúI have to go in with the right attitude and just think, OK thereâÄôs a reason why theyâÄôre doing [this change], and I have to do this for the team,âÄù said Dixon, who has become a crucial asset to the GophersâÄô bench this season, playing three different positions. âÄúEven if it feels uncomfortable, youâÄôve just got to suck it up and do it.âÄù The GophersâÄô two home victories leave them 10-6 in the Big Ten, tied for third with Michigan, which suffered a surprising 3-1 loss against last-place Iowa on Saturday. Besides boosting the Gophers in the Big Ten standings, the back-to-back wins also make the Gophers eligible for the NCAA tournament, with selection announcements coming Nov. 28 after the season wraps up. âÄúObviously, we donâÄôt know what the NCAA committee thinks,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWe exit the weekend 20-8, and I would say that puts us in a much better position to be noticed.âÄù