till-perfect spikers open Big Ten season

Brian Stensaas

For the last 15 years, Minnesota-Illinois volleyball has been the Mike Hebert show.
From 1985-95, Hebert (then Illinois head coach) and the Illini took 20 of 22 matches from the Gophers, including 12 straight from 1990-95.
Hebert got the call north to guide the Gophers in 1996 and the two teams have split the last 16 matches.
This weekend, No. 9 Minnesota (11-0) welcomes the Illini (9-2) to the Sports Pavilion followed by Purdue (8-4) as a part of a two-game weekend set to kick off the 2000 Big Ten volleyball season.
Should Minnesota defeat both Purdue and Illinois, the Gophers would come within one of the all-time Minnesota winning streak of 14 matches.
The Gopher’s current 11 match winning streak is the longest to open a season and the longest since they joined the NCAA in 1978.
If Minnesota is to remain perfect on the season, they will have a large hurdle past the Illinois team — literally.
“Illinois puts on the floor one of the tallest teams in the world — not the country — the world,” Hebert said.
Among the giants is 6-1 middle blocker Betsy Spicer, selected as Big Ten player of the week for two of the past three weeks.
Offsetting Illinois’ height advantage is Minnesota’s experience factor.
Spicer represents half of the senior class on an Illini roster featuring four sophomores and three freshmen. However, two of those freshmen stand 6-5 and 6-3.
“They’re young, but they’ve got some huge people,” Hebert said. “If they block the ball, they’ll be effective. [But] they’re not handling the ball too well.”
Illinois is riding a three match winning streak heading into tonight’s Big Ten opener with Iowa (3-3).
Before the Gophers will have the opportunity to untie that 8-8 knot with Illinois Saturday they will have to get past the Boilermakers Friday in their Big Ten opener.
Hebert said he was most concerned with one premiere Purdue player: 5-10 outside hitter Julie Doud, who comes into this weekend averaging 4.41 kills per game.
“She’s one of these outside hitters that’s just very productive,” Hebert said. “She doesn’t go away, she just keeps hammering all night long.”
Minnesota swept the Boilermakers in 1999 without dropping a game and Hebert hopes to see more of the same this time around.
“We’ve faced some teams already this season like Purdue and done a pretty good job at it,” he said. “[Containing] will be our assignment Friday night.
As for momentum, the Gophers hold a definite edge.
Purdue is coming off a last-place finish at the American Classic in Washington D.C. The Boilermakers managed to win just three games all weekend.
Both matches this weekend start at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion.

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]