Gophers volleyball ranked sixth in nation

Brian Stensaas

As expected, Minnesota’s volleyball team moved up in the weekly USA Today poll released Monday night.
The Gophers moved up three spots to No. 6, the highest Minnesota’s volleyball program has ever been ranked since its inception in 1972.
“It shows how hard we’ve been working,” team captain Lindsey Berg said. “It’s finally paying off. Seeing the program grow and grow, it’s just great to be a part of that.”
The jump up comes after the Gophers stayed undefeated, upping their record to 13-0 by defeating Purdue and Illinois to open the 2000 Big Ten season this weekend. With Penn State dropping from No. 3 to No. 11 following two surprising losses, Minnesota is the highest Big Ten team ranked in the national poll.
The Gophers travel to State College, Penn., this weekend to lock horns with the Nittany Lions.
Nebraska and Hawaii remained at the top while Colorado State moved up to third followed by USC and UCLA.
Minnesota coach Mike Hebert — who is a voter for the poll — knows the rankings are based on sheer hypothesis.
“This ranking is just based on coaches, many of whom have not seen us play, writing a number next to our name,” he said. “They haven’t seen our matches. What it means is that we have established a reputation.
“It’s very important for the coaching staff and players to all understand that what gets you to No. 6 in the nation is paying attention to fundamentals,” Hebert said.
Great success is nothing new for Hebert. As the head coach at Illinois for 13 seasons, he notched four Big Ten titles, two undefeated Big Ten seasons and 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances.
A coach familiar with the national spotlight, Hebert is guarding against overconfidence by this year’s Gophers. He said he stressed to his players not to let the rankings affect their play.
However, Berg couldn’t help cracking a smile and admitting her glee.
“I think this is really exciting,” she said.
“I know that we need to stay focused, but I think the ranking gives us more confidence. We enjoy what we do and take pride in what we do. To be acknowledged like this gives us an opportunity to feed off it.”
While the ranking may be just another number on another sheet of paper, the team is playing better than it has in years.
Following this weekend’s wins, Minnesota players are at the top in four of six Big Ten statistical categories.
Stephanie Hagen stands atop two of those lists — hitting percentage and blocks — and knows her game must stay the same to keep up the success.
“We know that it’s not going to help us play,” Hagen said. “But it’s nice to get respect from other people.”

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]