Second half provides Gophers with chance to make tourney run

Brian Hall

Senior Kathy Tilson is experiencing Minnesota volleyball in much the same way a freshman would.

The outside hitter who transferred from the University of Texas repeatedly tasted Big Ten action over the past month and savored every bite.

“It is so different than the Big 12 conference,” Tilson said. “It is so much stronger and every match is so important. That part of it has been fun.

“We are ready for the second half now, though. We know what to expect, and the things we need to do differently.”

Minnesota’s 21st ranked volleyball team heads to Illinois (13-5, 6-4 Big Ten) and Indiana (5-13, 2-8) this weekend to open the second half of conference play.

When the Gophers (11-7, 5-5) schedule was announced, coach Mike Hebert began mulling over its potential upside.

“I knew from the beginning this was going to be a schedule that would set up well for us in the second half of the season,” Hebert said.

The Gophers play six of their 10 remaining conference matches at home, including the final weekend of the season against powerful Ohio State and Penn State.

“We have to win one of those two games that final weekend,” Hebert said. “I think we will, I think it will be a crescendo for the season. One of those two teams may have secured their birth and their place in the Big Ten race. And here we are looking for the upset bid. I like the way it sets up for us.”

Wisconsin (16-2, 10-0) leads the Big Ten having lost only two conference games.

The Buckeyes (17-1, 9-1) and Lions (14-4, 7-3) follow Wisconsin, rounding out the trio of teams generally regarded as the class of the Big Ten.

Meanwhile, Hebert sees Minnesota as part of a five team group – Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern are the others – currently battling for supremacy in the middle of the conference.

Hebert said the second half battles become more intense and tougher to win because teams have first-hand knowledge of each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

“The matches are open warfare,” Hebert said. “This is it, there is no third half to gain ground on the pack; this is where people have to make their headway into the upper half of the conference to make the NCAA tournament. Everything is magnified, if you win it’s a great deal of fun, if you lose it’s very frustrating.”