Gophers head to Penn State for round two with the Nittnay Lions

Three weeks ago, when Penn State swept the Minnesota volleyball team in Williams Arena, coach Mike Hebert said the Nittany Lions had no weaknesses. Nothing appears to have changed. When the 13th-ranked Gophers (18-4 overall, 8-2 Big Ten) face the Nittany Lions Friday at Penn State, Minnesota will once again be up against the No. 1 team in the nation; a team that has swept all 22 teams it has faced this season. The match begins at 6 p.m. âÄúTheyâÄôre just on cruise control,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúTheyâÄôre thumping everybody, and no one is even irritating them.âÄù Following that match, the Gophers will travel to play at Indiana Saturday âÄî that match beginning at 7 p.m. But as Minnesota begins the second week of a tough three-week stretch, Hebert said the Gophers arenâÄôt in peak condition. âÄúWeâÄôre banged up more than we have been in the past,âÄù he said. âÄúWhat we need right now is a couple weeks of rest and healing. Instead we have to go play the best team in the country.âÄù Senior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig may be the biggest problem in that sense, as she has seen limited time in the last few weeks, missing part of the last match against Penn State to begin the stretch. With her out of the lineup, MinnesotaâÄôs front line has not been as well-balanced of late, allowing other teams to key on the GophersâÄô other top hitters. Penn State (22-0, 10-0) doesnâÄôt need any advantage, but may have one in this sense. The Nittany Lions have played with all of their big hitters in the recent weeks, and while the numbers have slipped a little, they are still out-hitting opponents .394-.065. In the last matchup of the two teams, sophomore middle blocker Arielle Wilson tore up the Minnesota defense, hitting .692 en route to a 10-kill night. GophersâÄô sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer, one of MinnesotaâÄôs key offensive players this season, was shut down early in the match, leading to an anemic offensive hit percentage of .033. The Gophers will need Gibbemeyer to find a way to beat the blockers if they are to be successful this time around. For this weekend, improvement is one thing the Gophers seemed most sure of. âÄúObviously Penn State is a great team, but I think this time we know what weâÄôre up against,âÄù junior libero Christine Tan said. âÄúWeâÄôve seen them before, and now weâÄôve adjusted the practices a little bit to try to get a feel for their pace. Penn State played well the first time, but I think we could have played better.âÄù Indiana follows Penn State, and although Minnesota swept the Hoosiers with ease at home, the Gophers wonâÄôt be taking Indiana lightly Friday. The Hoosiers are coming off of a big win on the road against No. 25 Wisconsin last weekend, and appear to be a vastly improved team. Sophomore middle blocker Ashley Benson collected 37 kills and 17 blocks in two matches last week to lead Indiana to a pair of wins. The effort earned her an award for the National Player of the Week. Along with Benson, senior outside hitter Erica Short can also be a handful, as she collected 18 of her teamâÄôs 37 kills in the match at Minnesota earlier this season. Numbers like these may prompt the Gophers to look at their defensive strategy. âÄúWe can use some of the same strategies, but weâÄôre going to have to make some changes too because they definitely have gotten better,âÄù senior setter Rachel Hartmann said. âÄúAnd then especially playing them in Indiana, it will be a tougher environment. But weâÄôre focusing on the first game first.âÄù