Gophers take on Wisconsin, Northwestern at Pavilion

Minnesota players said they are looking forward to the comforts of home.

Kent Erdahl

Minnesota’s volleyball team is thankful for a few things it doesn’t have to do this weekend.

After last weekend’s split against No. 9 Ohio State and No. 6 Penn State, the Gophers said they are happy they don’t have to travel and they don’t face a ranked opponent.

Minnesota will play host to Wisconsin and Northwestern at 7 p.m. today and Saturday, respectively.

Minnesota players and coaches said they are definitely looking forward to the comforts of the Sports Pavilion after what coach Mike Hebert called, the toughest road trip in the nation.

But Hebert said playing the matches at home also increases expectations – especially after Minnesota dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 with the split during the weekend.

“We’re continuing on the same path regardless of the rankings,” Hebert said. “But if you want to win a conference championship, you have to win your home matches.”

According to the rankings, Minnesota should have little problem with its two unranked opponents.

But the rankings don’t exactly tell the story.

The Badgers are an even 2-2 in Big Ten play and Northwestern is 0-4. But the travel partners have already faced every nationally ranked team in the conference besides Minnesota.

Both schools fell to Penn State and Ohio State in their Big Ten openers two weeks ago. But Wisconsin recovered quickly last week and earned three top-25 votes after defeating Northwestern and then-No. 19 Illinois.

The Badgers rely on a big middle attack featuring Sheila Shaw and Taylor Reineke, who recorded 19 kills and nine blocks, respectively, against the Illini.

“It’s going to be very competitive, especially against Wisconsin, because they’re going to have a huge block up there,” outside hitter Trisha Bratford said. “They’ll be just as good as Penn State and Ohio State.”

Despite the praise, Bratford said the Gophers have the advantage of playing at home and in front of a large crowd.

The audience will be magnified because the Wisconsin match will be televised live on Fox Sports Net North.

Libero Paula Gentil said the telecast will be good exposure for Minnesota but won’t affect her – at least until afterward.

“I don’t notice, but I like to go home and watch to see if I do some dumb things,” Gentil said. “I like to listen to what the commentators say. This one time a guy called one of my plays the dumbest he’s ever seen, so I like to laugh about stuff like that.”

Hebert said he hopes none of his players have those plays tonight or Saturday. Although the Gophers don’t have to travel, he said they do need to play well.

“To me, Wisconsin is a very, very – put two verys in there – strong team,” he said. “They are a group that’s ready to break out. It’s not a match we can take lightly.”