Scheduling oddity haunts

Sarah Mitchell

A young team vying to be a contender in the Big Ten doesn’t need more adversity. But thanks to the conference’s odd scheduling policy, Minnesota is looking at a demanding schedule that could add up to a pile of misfortunes.
In an 11-team conference, a different school is designated as the “wild card” team each year. Chosen alphabetically, it was Minnesota’s turn to be the odd team out this season, with Northwestern being a next on the list.
The loner team is forced to play two matches over the weekend, while the other ten teams play one mid-week game and one weekend game.
“I’m not a fan of the scheduling policy,” Hebert said. “I’m not a believer in it.”
As the leftover, Minnesota (12-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) faces another setback in an already competitive conference. The opposing teams have the luxury of preparing for one competition at a time rather than back-to-back matches. A Saturday opponent of the Gophers has the biggest edge, facing a weary Minnesota squad fresh from a Friday night battle.
This was especially true this weekend, as the Gophers split their road series with a 3-2 defeat of Iowa (6-7, 0-4) and a 0-3 loss to Wisconsin (14-1, 3-0).
“We played a long game Saturday,” Hebert said of the two-and-a half hour match at Iowa. “Then we checked into the hotel in Madison at 2:30 a.m. and had to be checked out by 11 in the morning.”
Hebert said the coaches have been trying to get the policy changed for years, but have failed. The same procedure is in place for men’s and women’s basketball.
Fortunately for the Gophers, this drawback to the schedule occurs only every 11th season.
Smashing success
Sophomore outside hitter Nicole Branagh had a milestone match against Iowa on Friday, smashing a career-high 32 kills. The Orinda, Calif., native was the 18th Gopher to record over 30 kills in the match.
Branagh’s strong showing, however, might point to a less than average match by the rest of the team. Hebert said a dominating individual performance usually signals an imbalance on the team.
“Certainly without her performance we would not have won,” Hebert said. “But when one player is contributing that much it indicates that the team is not playing well as a whole.”
Branagh recorded 11 kills against the Badgers to bring her season total to 286. The sophomore is second in the Big Ten, averaging 5.40 kills per game.
No passing zone
A downfall for the Gophers this weekend was their inability to pass the ball. Iowa and Wisconsin recorded a combined 19 service aces against Minnesota.
“That’s the third consecutive match where we haven’t been passing well,” Hebert said, referring to the 15 Ohio State service aces from two weekends ago. “I’m concerned about it because we have passed well all year.”
Opponents have recorded 93 service aces against the Gophers this season, which ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten. The top team, Penn State, has allowed only 24.
Heather’s back-ster
Sophomore middle blocker Heather Baxter returned to action this past weekend, immediately contributing to the Gophers offense. Baxter had battled a kidney infection since the team’s Big Ten home-opening matches two weekends ago.
The sophomore, who Hebert calls the best defensive middle blocker on the team, was second on the team with a .353 hitting percentage against the Hawkeyes while leading Minnesota with a .400 hitting percentage against the Badgers.
Side Outs
ù Minnesota ranks second to Penn State in the Big Ten with a .295 hitting percentage. The Lions have a .362 hitting percentage.
ù The Gophers tops the Big Ten with 111 service aces. Freshman setter Lindsey Berg leads Minnesota with 29.