Weekend split leaves spikers questioning their intensity

by Brian Hall

In 1998, seniors Lindsey Berg and Stephanie Hagen were freshmen on a youthful Minnesota volleyball team which went 17-14 overall, and 7-13 in the Big Ten as the Gophers just missed out on their third-straight NCAA tournament.

Now, they are the veteran leadership on a young team which, at this point, seems destined to re-live what they experienced in 1998.

Minnesota (13-9, 7-7 Big Ten) split against Michigan (11-10, 7-7) and Michigan State (15-6, 8-6) over the weekend, and is quickly running out of time to prove its worth to the NCAA Tournament committee.

The Gophers play eight more matches – six against Big Ten teams – and coach Mike Hebert believes his team needs at least 18 wins to earn postseason consideration.

“I don’t know if everyone on the team realized how big of a match it was,” Berg said after Saturday’s loss to the Spartans. “I don’t know if that is something that goes through everybody’s head. I don’t see it in everybody.

“Steph and I will just go out and play our hardest every match and hopefully it will be contagious and some more people will start buying into it. But until then, this is the way the rest of the season will be.”

Minnesota was swept by Michigan State (30-24, 30-23, 30-21) on Saturday after defeating Michigan (28-30, 30-22, 30-27, 30-23) in four games on Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

“This was completely unexpected, a very, very disappointing performance,” Hebert said Saturday. “We had the opportunity to get a little separation in the middle of the pack there and we just squandered it. With the exception of our seniors nobody brought much to the table tonight. (Seniors Kathy Tilson, Berg and Hagen) delivered extremely well but our younger group didn’t bring anything.

“We just didn’t play with much heart.”

Hagen was the lone offensive star as she finished with 14 kills and hit .619 for the match. Meanwhile, the Gophers outside attack was a non-factor as three hitters, Cassie Busse, Amanda Cipperly, and Erin Martin, all posted a negative average.

Against the Wolverines, Berg had 53 assists, leading the team to a .313 hitting percentage. She also powered six service aces and dug 10 balls.

“This match can be described as Lindsey Berg put the team on her back again and willed us to a win,” Hebert said. “Her determination to win was infectious tonight.”

Hagen led the team in kills with 16 while Bethany Brafford had her second straight double-double with 12 kills and 10 digs.

The Gophers host Division I-AA representative University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on Monday at the Pavilion. First serve is at 7 p.m.