Despite injuries, Gophers holding on in fourth place

Lindsay Guentzel

Nothing can ruin a teamâÄôs season like injuries âÄî and the 19th-ranked Gophers know that full well. After losing senior outside hitter Hayley Cowles to an ACL injury in preseason camp, head coach Mike Hebert had to start from scratch, mixing and matching players on the court until he found the right combination to make up his new rotation. The new combination seemed to be a success as the Gophers jumped out to a 5-1 record, picking up first-place finishes in the Golden Gopher Invite and the Diet Coke Classic. Unfortunately, HebertâÄôs game plan was short-lived. Just four days after being named the Most Outstanding Player at the Diet Coke Classic, senior Lauren Gibbemeyer injured her wrist in practice, keeping her off the court for five weeks. Leaving the team without any senior leadership on the court, the Gophers struggled to find continuity in their play âÄî dropping tough matches against No. 18 San Diego, No. 15 Michigan and No. 24 Northwestern. While the Gophers sputtered, the injuries continued. Freshman libero Steffi Sooter missed three weeks after hitting her head during pre-match warm-ups Oct. 3, while junior opposite hitter Katherine Harms sprained her ankle during the GophersâÄô 3-1 victory over Northwestern on Friday. Her return status is unknown. But despite the adversity, the Gophers have held their season together just enough, sitting at fourth place in the Big Ten with a 7-5 conference record. âÄúOverall, weâÄôve adapted pretty well [to the injuries],âÄù Sooter said. âÄúThe depth of our team, our players can just bounce in and play anywhere. For us, itâÄôs been hard but overall itâÄôs brought us together as whole.âÄù Things seem headed in the right direction. Both Gibbemeyer and Sooter are back on the court and the Gophers carry a three-match winning streak into this weekendâÄôs road tests at Indiana and Purdue. While Minnesota beat both teams at home earlier this season, the Gophers arenâÄôt discounting either of them, especially since both have beaten ninth-ranked Penn State. âÄúIn order to be successful we have to go in with a strong sense of focus and confidence, especially with Harms going out again âÄî getting the line-up changed again,âÄù said sophomore Tabitha Love. Hebert added: âÄúEverybody is playing superbly at home [in the Big Ten]. The mindset going in is that weâÄôre going to have to play low-error, aggressive style because both of these opponents are going to be after us big time.âÄù