Volleyball faces must-win situation this weekend

by Brian Hall

After two months of roller coaster play in the Big Ten, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert knew a change was in order before NCAA tournament hopes faded out of sight.

Now, after a four-match winning streak and on the verge of a possible postseason berth, Hebert and the rest of the Gophers coaching staff have apparently pushed the right buttons.

“For about two weeks the team had itself tied up into a knot,” Hebert said. “It was like they were carrying the weight of the world around. That is how they played and how they practiced. We knew we had to do something to loosen the knot.”

In the coaching staff’s eyes, Minnesota (17-9, 9-7 Big Ten) needed to relax and begin having fun once again.

Assistant coach Kim Kumfer recalled the tape from the team-building exercise the squad participated in during the preseason.

Minnesota went to a camp in Wisconsin attempting to jell into a cohesive unit.

“Kim said, `Let’s take them in and show them the tape of Wisconsin,'” Hebert said. “We just showed them some video of that and they started laughing. We didn’t tell them what we were going to be doing. We just sat them down and turned on the video.”

Hebert stood up after the video and questioned whether there was a difference between the group he had before him and the group in the video.

He received a resounding yes.

“Following that, we just had competitions in practice that were fun,” Hebert said. “I think that helped to lift that blanket off the team. The atmosphere on the team was so loose and relaxed they came back and played much better.”

Now the focus lies on the weekend ahead and earning the one win Hebert believes will get Minnesota into the tournament.

“The match against Northwestern is obviously a very critical one for us,” Hebert said. “I feel if we win one more match we are probably in. If we go 0-4 we are on the bubble.”

The Gophers travel to Northwestern (8-15, 4-12) on Friday before going to Madison and facing No. 6 Wisconsin (21-3, 15-1) on Sunday.

It’s do or die time for Minnesota as only four matches remain. The Gophers host No. 9 Ohio State (22-2, 14-2) and No. 14 Penn State (18-6, 11-5) the final weekend of the season.

Two new spikers

Two more athletes signed National Letters of Intent to join Minnesota’s volleyball team for next season.

Jessica Byrnes, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Minnetonka, Minn., and Paula Gentil, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter/defensive specialist from Lake Highland Prep School in Orlando, Fla., join Athena Mallakis as the newest members of the Gophers

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