No. 20 Gophers split weekend

by Lindsay Guentzel

After two weeks on the road, the 20th-ranked Gophers were ready to come back to Minnesota and play in front of their home crowd. The homecoming brought mixed results: a tough loss to No. 6 Illinois on Friday night followed by a 3-1 win over border-rival Wisconsin on Sunday, dropping their conference record to 5-5. The Gophers made it worthwhile for the more than 2,800 fans who packed the Sports Pavilion âÄî forcing the top-ranked Fighting Illini to a nail-biting five-set match. After dropping the first set 25-23, the Gophers picked up a decisive win in set two, 25-6 âÄî the GophersâÄô largest win since the scoring switched over to the 25-point system. âÄú[The second set] really just showed us how great we can be and our potential,âÄù junior Jessica Granquist said. Minnesota took set three in a fierce 31-29 battle âÄî a set with six lead changes and 14 tied scores âÄî but couldnâÄôt hold off a powerful rally by Illinois, dropping the final two sets 25-15 and 15-9. âÄúIllinois really stepped it up, obviously, and they kind of changed our defense on us a little bit,âÄù senior Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúWe just needed to make sure that we adjusted as well.âÄù Sophomore Tabitha Love had a career-high 24 kills, nine digs and a service ace against Illinois while Gibbemeyer picked up 11 kills and six blocks in her third match back at middle hitter since injuring her wrist Sept. 4. âÄúIâÄôm feeling better and better every day,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄúI just want to keep improving and keep helping the team out and doing my best. It definitely feels better to be on the floor than on the sidelines.âÄù With the loss to Illinois, the Gophers dropped to 0-4 in five-set matches this season âÄî although Gibbemeyer said FridayâÄôs match wasnâÄôt a complete loss for the team. âÄúThe outcome wasnâÄôt what we wanted, but we definitely made huge strides towards our final goal of improving,âÄù she said. The Gophers took the momentum from FridayâÄôs loss and spent the remainder of the weekend gearing up for their next challenge âÄî hosting border-rival Wisconsin at Williams Arena. ItâÄôs the seventh year in a row the Gophers have played a game at Williams, selling tickets for $1 in hopes of bringing in a large home crowd. With more than 6,200 fans in attendance, Minnesota jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but the 2-8 Badgers battled back to take the third set 25-13. âÄúIn the beginning of the season, I was worried this would be the match where Wisconsin would kind of catch fire, and they did,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúThey are a much better team than their record indicated, and they showed that today.âÄù The Gophers narrowly pulled it together in set four, 26-24, with the help of junior Katherine HarmsâÄô eight kills and two digs off the bench. âÄúI knew something had to change on the court because we werenâÄôt doing as well as we could,âÄù Harms said. âÄúIt made me âÄî having [the teamâÄôs] support âÄî want to push myself even further to do better for the team.âÄù