Coach Mike Hebert drew national attention when he decided to take over an ailing Minnesota volleyball program this season. Now a Gophers player has followed suit.
Junior setter Becky Bauer was named National Player of the Week by the American Volleyball Coaches Association on Monday for her performance over the weekend at Iowa and Illinois, both Minnesota wins. She collected 145 assists in the two matches and had a career-high 14 kills in the Iowa match.
Bauer, third on the all-time Gophers list in assists, was also honored by the Big Ten. She and Wisconsin freshman Kelly Kennedy shared the conference’s Player of the Week honor. Bauer is the first Gopher to win the award since Jean Schintz in 1994.
Out of the frying pan…
Here’s a quick recap of the Gophers’ weekend:
Friday — Minnesota fell behind two games to none at Iowa, but came back to win in a two-hour, 50-minute match, the longest in school history.
Saturday — The Gophers played at Illinois for the first time since Hebert came to Minnesota after 13 years with the Illini. The Gophers won the emotional match in four games and are off to their best start since 1992.
The reward? They get to play No. 9 Wisconsin on the road tonight.
The Badgers will undoubtedly be thinking about revenge when they face the Gophers in Madison, Wis. Two of Minnesota’s seven conference wins last year came at the expense of Wisconsin.
“It’s going to be another grudge match,” Bauer said. “We always seem to play well against Wisconsin regardless of the way the rest of the season is going.”
This season is going well for both teams. Minnesota, under the new leadership of Hebert, has exceeded expectations. Wisconsin has fared even better.
The Badgers, who returned all six starters from last year’s 22-15 team, also added a strong recruiting class this year. The immediate results are a 13-1 start.
Each team has an outstanding setter — Minnesota has Bauer, and Wisconsin has Laura Abbinante, whom Hebert thinks is the best in the conference. But one key difference between the teams favors Wisconsin.
“They have great depth,” Hebert said. “They may be the deepest in the Big Ten.”
That is in direct contrast to the Gophers, whose only offensive help off the bench is sophomore Jill McDonell.
In addition, Minnesota’s lack of depth could be exaggerated because of the modified scoring rules used for television matches. The match will be televised on the Midwest Sports Channel at 6 p.m.
In televised matches the first three games are eight minutes long, regardless of the score — one of the stipulations of the format. The clock only runs while the ball is live. Hypothetically, these games could last longer than normal, favoring a team that is able to rest more of its players.
“The TV format makes things a little worse,” Hebert said. “The games could go on longer, and that’s not good. The advantage is with Wisconsin.”
One thing the Gophers might have going for them is momentum, which Hebert believes doesn’t exist. They do, however, have something else.
“If there’s a definition to momentum,” he said, “it’s confidence. And our confidence has improved a lot since the beginning of the year.”