Winless volleyball team hoping for victories at own invite

Minnesota’s volleyball team begins its home season this weekend as it hosts the Nike Invitational tournament.

The team as a whole is hoping to rebound after a less than stellar showing last weekend in Hawaii.

One could say this about the Gophers’ poor start, however. The three teams they played were all ranked (No. 2 Hawaii, No. 13 UCLA and No. 22 Louisville).

This weekend, the team switches gears to a less intense level as it takes on three unranked opponents in Kansas, Dayton and Marquette.

The players should feel confident about this weekend. Despite their losses on the island of Oahu, they are still ranked 13th in this week’s poll.

Kansas, Marquette and Dayton should be easier tasks. Still, coach Mike Hebert wants to be careful and not take any chances.

“This weekend is going to be much tougher than they (the team) think it will,” Hebert said, “I also think we will prevail at some point in the season.”

Hopefully that time will be now. The team’s 0-3 start is the worst start Minnesota volleyball has had since 1996. In fact, the 1996 season was the last time Minnesota had loss their first two matches. This year, the opening losing streak has hit three, and it comes on the heels of a season where Minnesota went 11-1 on the road.

“The team doesn’t have a lot of experience playing from this position,” Hebert said.

When asked about his decision to enter the team in such a highly competitive tournament, Hebert responded with no hesitance.

“I wanted this team to know from day one where they stood,” Hebert said. “If a program wants to be great, they have to stop worrying about the consequences of losing.”

Hebert compared his team’s situation to a submarine rather than a racecar, meaning the Gophers will have to make a slow turn toward a successful season rather than a quick one.

Minnesota will attempt to right their ship tonight when they face Kansas at 7:30.

If history repeats itself, the Gophers should win. Since becoming the Gophers’ head coach in 1996, Hebert has compiled a 6-1 record in home openers.

The Jayhawks boast a 2-1 record heading into the Sports Pavilion after competing in their own tournament last weekend. They had two players take all-tournament honors in last week’s competition: freshman outside hitter Janaina Correa and junior middle blocker Ashley Michaels.

The Gophers will depend on solid play by their All-American middle blocker, senior Cassie Busse, and defensive specialist Paula Gentil. Hebert spoke highly of Gentil’s efforts last weekend.

“Paula was the only player on our team to play at an elite level on a consistent basis,” Hebert said.

After playing Kansas, Minnesota’s meetings with Dayton (3-0) and Marquette (1-2) will be Saturday.