Minnesota looks to bounce back

The Gophers will look to win matches against Northwestern and Illinois.

Aleutian Calabay

The No. 6 Minnesota volleyball team will look to bounce back after a hard-fought, three-set loss to No. 1 Penn State last Sunday. The Gophers get no reprieve from tough opponents as they travel this weekend to Illinois to take on two hard-hitting teams. On Friday Minnesota (14-4 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) goes to Champaign to play the No. 10 Fighting Illini (12-3, 4-2), then the team heads to Evanston on Saturday to take on Northwestern (11-7, 2-4). Both matches will be at 7 p.m. âÄúI think both teams are very well coached and can play at a high level,âÄù Gophers head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúItâÄôs not just who you play but when you play them, and it looks like both those teams are riding a crest right now. I anticipate that weâÄôll be in for significant battles in both places.âÄù Timing will prove to be crucial in several ways when the Gophers take on Illinois. Minnesota is playing their best volleyball of the season right now. They had been previously undefeated in the Big Ten and winners of seven straight until their loss to Penn State, which, despite the losing effort, Hebert called their best performance so far this season. However, Illinois is riding a hot streak of its own. They have won three straight matches including an Oct. 3 win over then-No. 6 Michigan. The Illini, like the Gophers, have only one loss on their home court this season, also at the hands of the Nittany Lions. âÄúIllinois is a really fiery team and plays with a lot of energy,âÄù sophomore libero Jessica Granquist said. âÄúOur two teams are very similar in terms of how we play, so in a matchup like that it just comes down to who plays better. ItâÄôs always fun to play Illinois, especially at Illinois because they always have a huge crowd.âÄù Illinois is attempting to bring FridayâÄôs crowd to a level that has never been accomplished before as they look to break the NCAA volleyball attendance record. The University of Illinois has given out 125,000 tickets in an attempt to fill Assembly Hall to 16,600 people. The match precedes Midnight Madness for the Illinois basketball teams. If the Illini succeed in filling their hall, they will shatter the old NCAA volleyball attendance record of 13,797, set last year when North Carolina hosted Clemson. Minnesota leads the overall series against Illinois 35-26-1 and has won the last three meetings. Following the madness in Champaign, the Gophers move on to Evanston to take on the Wildcats on Saturday night. Northwestern has made numerous positive strides coming off a disappointing 2008 season in which they finished last in the Big Ten with an 8-23 overall record, including going just 2-18 in the conference. The Wildcats came into Big Ten play with a respectable 9-3 record, and although they started 0-4 in conference play, they have since rebounded for two straight home wins over Purdue and Indiana. The Gophers lead the series over Northwestern 43-16 and have won three matches in a row.