For Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert, seven years of watching videotapes, crisscrossing the country on recruiting visits and reworking game plans finally came to fruition last Friday night when his team won the first Big Ten championship in school history.
As for Saturday night, well Ö
“The coaching staff was exhausted after Friday night,” Hebert said. “We’ve been building for that during my whole time here, and there was a vacuum there on Saturday night.”
Ohio State handed the Gophers their first three-game loss of the year on Saturday, leaving Hebert and his staff the task of regrouping a team with absolutely no knowledge of what to do after winning a championship.
“We weren’t expecting anything like (Saturday night),” middle blocker Bethany Brafford said. “We felt almost invincible. It was a good reality check.”
No. 9 Minnesota (29-4, 16-2 Big Ten) will attempt to restore some sense of normalcy as it closes out the regular season this week, welcoming Iowa on Wednesday night then visiting No. 16 Penn State on Friday night.
The team met on Monday to address Saturday night’s loss and re-establish its focus, something both Brafford and Hebert acknowledged was lost against the Buckeyes.
“The biggest thing is being able to come back after that,” Brafford said. “Ohio State blew us out of the water, and we gained more knowledge about what it’s like to be a champion.”
On Wednesday the Gophers play host to Iowa, a team that proved to be a pesky – if not daunting – opponent during the teams’ first meeting in Iowa City on Oct. 16. The Hawkeyes stole game two and came two points away from forcing a fifth game before falling to Minnesota in four.
“Iowa is a very unorthodox team, and they gave us a lot of problems at their place,” Hebert said. “Between them and Penn State, it’s a good lineup to prepare ourselves for the NCAA tournament.”
While Hebert was disturbed by Saturday’s loss, he chalked up the setback primarily to a lack of experience handling the commotion which follows a championship.
“(Assistant coach) Brian Heffernan called Saturday a ‘skewed data point,’ and I think that’s right,” Hebert said. “It was completely different from our normal output, and I’m not too worried about it. It was just a weird night.”
he Gophers are in position to set several major team and individual records during the last week of the season.
With two victories this week, Minnesota would set school records for single-season wins since the NCAA era began in 1981 (31) and single-season conference wins (18).
Additionally, libero Paula Gentil needs five digs to set a single-season team record. Gentil has 491 for the season, trailing only Chris Schaefer’s 495 during the 1989 campaign.