Gophers sweep state of Michigan — again

Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert slowly walked off the court Saturday night with a smile and a look of satisfaction.
Why not?
His Gophers team had just completed a two-match sweep against the state of Michigan, and improved their best-ever Big Ten start to 10-2.
For the season, the Gophers won all four matches against the Michigans — marking the first time Minnesota has accomplished that feat since 1993.
But what was more impressive was the Gophers (19-5 overall) didn’t lose a game against Michigan State and Michigan in the four matches.
The play of the Gophers left Hebert with few words.
“I don’t really know quite what to say,” Hebert said. “We’re not just edging by teams, we are controlling teams.” Minnesota was near flawless against Michigan State and Michigan. The Gophers limited their hitting errors to 15 in each match — a stat that usually results in wins.
Junior outside hitter Nicole Branagh said the Gophers’ clean, error-free play was a key to their success.
“We played with control,” Branagh said. “This was the most efficient weekend that we have had.”
When a team plays clean they should win. And win Minnesota did.
Michigan State was the first to fall victim to the Gophers on Friday night. Minnesota spanked the Spartans 15-6, 15-3, 15-10.
Michigan State coach Chuck Erbe said his Spartans were simply beat by a better team — a better team that held Michigan State to a negative hitting percentage by forcing 33 errors.
“We had a pretty miserable offensive performance tonight,” Erbe said. “Minnesota showed up and played. We didn’t.
“Bottom line, when you have one team that is playing hard and the other has a miserable night, this is the kind of result that is going to happen.”
Hebert said he was surprised with the one-sided play of the match.
“They are a much better team than we have made them look,” Hebert said. “But we have in fact beaten them up pretty badly twice.”
While the Spartans offense was nonexistent, the Gophers played solidly. Minnesota was led by Branagh and Charnette Fair, who collected 17 and 11 kills respectively.
But the story of the match was the Gophers’ blocking game. Minnesota swatted away 20 balls to set a school record for blocks in a three-game match.
The Gophers didn’t stop there.
Minnesota picked up Saturday where they had left off Friday. Michigan was the unlucky team as the Gophers plowed through the Wolverines 15-3, 15-3, 15-9.
Minnesota was again led by Branagh and her 17 kills. Sophomore setter Lindsey Berg pitched in 42 assists.
Hebert said he was afraid of a letdown after the win over Michigan State, but the Gophers were able to go out and get the job down.
“It was a methodical and business-like performance by a very good team,” he said.
The two wins, coupled with Illinois losing its two weekend matches to Wisconsin and Purdue, give the Gophers sole possession of second place in the Big Ten.
Minnesota will go at it again on Wednesday night when Iowa travels up to the Sports Pavilion for a rare midweek match. The Gophers swept the Hawkeyes last month in Iowa City.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]