Spikers unscathed for fourth straight Big Ten match

Michigan State and Michigan are the latest to fall 3-0 to Minnesota’s volleyball team.

Jeff Barthel

Consistency seems to be Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert’s favorite word.

Hebert – in his 28th year of coaching and eighth with the Gophers – likes to use the word when talking of team goals and achievements.

And this weekend, the Gophers had both.

Minnesota’s 22nd-ranked team (21-9, 14-4 Big Ten) won two matches over the weekend in Michigan.

The Gophers handed Michigan State (19-9, 11-7) a 3-0 sweep on Saturday. The win followed a straight-set win over Michigan (18-11, 10-8) on Friday night.

Minnesota has now swept four straight Big Ten opponents after tossing aside Purdue and Indiana Nov. 14 and Nov. 15.

Hebert is content but still feels his team has not reached its peak.

“(The weekend performance) was not the best Ö but we were playing very well,” Hebert said of his team’s victories. “It was great to see that type of consistency at this time of the season.”

The Gophers’ pair of wins keeps them within one match of Big Ten supremacy.

The Big Ten leader – Penn State (26-4, 15-3) – kept its conference lead after it earned a 3-0 sweep over Wisconsin on Saturday. Minnesota will host Penn State this weekend, wrapping up conference play.

This past weekend, the Gophers focused on their foes from Michigan; in particular, defending two standout middle blockers.

“We’ve been taking out certain hitters we think are the core of the opposing team,” freshman Meredith Nelson said. “We plan on having certain people pegged. Jenny Rood (Michigan State) and Erin Moore (Michigan) were those two players.”

Rood, a 6-foot-2-inch captain, has 1,340 kills in her Spartan career. The Gophers held her to nine kills Friday night.

Moore – a 6-foot Wolverine captain – is Michigan’s all-time leader in kills with 1,331.

Saturday night, Minnesota held Moore to nine kills and a hitting percentage of .045 (9 kills, 7 errors, 44 attempts).

Nelson, a 6-foot-3-inch middle blocker, knocked down six kills and posted a .357 hitting percentage against Michigan. Nelson also had an eight-kill, .462 performance Friday.

“She is a very poised player,” Hebert said. “She’s, as they say, mature beyond her years.”

However, it was defense that led the Gophers to a win over the Wolverines. Minnesota had 11 blocks and 75 digs as a team.

Nelson led her team with five blocks. Several backcourt players shared in the dig effort.

“We channeled a lot of balls to certain players,” senior captain Erin Lorenzen said. “We did a really good job of setting and reading the balls.”

Libero Paula Gentil led the Gophers with 18 digs in Saturday’s match.

Minnesota’s junior defensive specialist Lisa Reinhart added

13 digs for Minnesota. Senior captain Cassie Busse had 13 digs as well.

Busse, an All-American, also led the Gophers with 15 kills.

Junior setter Lindsey Taatjes led Minnesota’s passing game. Taatjes – Minnesota’s single-season record holder for assists (she had 1,734 in 2002) – aided her team with 42 assists Saturday.

“She’s so consistent that it goes unnoticed and is often taken for granted,” Lorezen said.

Taatjes also helped lead the Gophers to a 30-26, 30-26, 30-20 win over Michigan State on Friday. She had 46 assists in the team’s victory over the Spartans.

Taatjes’ sets were often lofted in the direction of junior teammate, Trisha Bratford.

“I just went out and had an ‘on’ night,” Bratford said. “I was just able to get great sets and knock them down.”

Bratford had 13 kills against the Spartans. The 5-foot-11-inch outside hitter also had a .476 hitting percentage – her best since a .500 hitting performance against Xavier on Sept. 12.

The Gophers accomplished a .306 hitting percentage over the weekend; the Spartans and Wolverines’ combined total was .136.