Red-hot volleyball team streaks into homestand

Earlier in the season, Minnesota’s volleyball team was looking for the confidence they would need to play well in a tough Big Ten conference.
After the No. 22 Gophers (15-3 overall) raced out to a 6-0 in-conference record — their best Big Ten start ever — the confidence is certainly showing.
When Minnesota returns home tonight to the Sports Pavilion to face Indiana and No. 23 Illinois, the team will have to be wary of becoming overconfident.
But overconfidence is something the Gophers aren’t even considering.
“We can’t get overconfident,” Branagh said. “Because it’s going to be a battle through the rest of the Big Ten.”
That battle starts this weekend, and in order for the Gophers to sustain their confidence, Branagh said it’s important for the Gophers to keep up their intense play against the Hoosiers and Illini.
“They’re going to come out strong,” Branagh said. “We need to come out ready to play with them. They’re playing well, and we’re playing well. Those are going to be great matches.”
Coach Mike Hebert feels it takes much longer than a hot three-week stretch for a team to become overconfident.
“That is absolutely not a problem,” Hebert said. “The development of confidence in a program occurs over a longer period of time than the last few weeks that we have had this run.”
Minnesota has rolled off nine wins in a row, and despite the hot play, Hebert said the Big Ten co-leading Gophers are still striving to get better.
“We are extremely gratified and proud of the accomplishment thus far,” Hebert said. “But I don’t think anyone from coach to player to manager is under any illusions that we are a dominant team.”
Hebert said the competition this weekend will be the best Minnesota has faced this year at home.
“We are going to have to play strong,” Hebert said. “We’ve passed a few tests so far, but this one against Indiana and Illinois is stiffer than we have seen so far.”
The Hoosiers (11-4) come into the Sports Pavilion Friday with a 2-4 Big Ten record. After winning all nine nonconference matches, Indiana has struggled in conference play.
Illinois (9-3) will travel to the Sports Pavilion on Saturday with a hot streak of its own in the Big Ten. The Illini have opened conference play with a 5-1 record — the only loss coming against top-ranked Penn State.
Illinois coach Don Hardin was an assistant under Hebert when Hebert coached the Illini. In his three years at Minnesota, Hebert is 3-3 against his former team.
The Gophers said they won’t be overconfident when they hit the floor this weekend. Instead, they will walk out on the court ready to face their opponents with confidence.
“The fact that we’ve gone 6-0 adds to our ability to take to the floor with our chins a little higher and our shoulders standing a little taller than three weeks ago,” Hebert said.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]