V-ball hosts Michigan teams this weekend

Sarah Mitchell

The Gophers womens’ volleyball team hopes to learn about its capabilities this weekend when No. 18 Michigan State and Michigan come to town.
Minnesota was swept 3-0 by both teams on the road in early October. The defeats left the Gophers wondering if they were just an average team, struggling to be victorious in an unfamiliar environment, or if they simply couldn’t survive in the monstrous Big Ten.
Wolverines coach Greg Giovanazzi voted for the former.
“They did not have a good match last time,” said Giovanazzi of Minnesota, which fell by scores of 14-16, 15-5, 17-15. “They didn’t play well. It’s not like we had a miraculous comeback.”
Spartans coach Chuck Erbe echoed Giovanazzi’s thoughts.
“For as young as they are, I thought Minnesota played beyond their years,” Erbe said.
While Minnesota (15-8 overall, 5-7 in the Big Ten) does have the advantage of a home court, it must overcome a vicious attack game from both teams to be successful.
For Michigan State (18-4, 10-3), Jenna Wrobel is the offensive threat. Heading into the Spartans match at Michigan on Wednesday, the senior led the league averaging 5.77 kills per game.
“The rest of the team is developing nicely, but statistically Wrobel is our primary player,” Erbe said.
Senior Karen Chase is the leader of Michigan’s (12-11, 4-9) attack. The outside hitter made her presence known in the first Gophers-Wolverines match up, drilling 23 kills in 26 attempts, with just one hitting error.
“Karen’s just had a fabulous year,” Giovanazzi said. “I don’t think she’ll have as good of a match against Minnesota this time. That was a lifetime performance.”
When Chase steps on the Sports Pavilion court this weekend, it will mark the second time this season she’ll face an old high school teammate on the other side of the net. Both Chase and Gophers outside hitter Nicole Branagh went to the same school in Orinda, Calif., causing striking similarities in their games.
“When you see Karen and Nicole play against each other, they both look alike,” Giovanazzi said. “It’s incredible.”
Just like Chase, Branagh supplies the greatest amount of offensive power to her team. The sophomore has drilled 434 kills, which is 160 more than Gophers outside hitter Yvonne Wichert’s second-place effort.
Although each team has one player that stands out statistically, victories come through team effort. Both Erbe and Giovanazzi voiced concerns about Gophers freshman setter Lindsey Berg.
“I think Lindsey Berg has had the biggest impact on a team than anybody else in the league,” said Giovanazzi, who is a longtime friend of the Berg family. “I think the world of Lindsey.”
But for the Gophers, Berg and Wichert, who Erbe listed as a potential threat, might be missing from this weekend’s lineup. Berg is battling an elbow injury and Wichert is suffering back pains.
“If we had to play today, they would not be ready,” Hebert said Wednesday.
For Minnesota, which Hebert said “at times played scared against Michigan State and Michigan,” this weekend is a chance to regain momentum. After Saturday, the Gophers are on the road for the next two weekends, a place that has only granted them one win in six Big Ten attempts.
“I think it’s going to be a war,” Erbe said of Friday’s match. “Minnesota scares me.”