Minnesota gets one last tune-up before Penn State

The Minnesota volleyball team is just one win away from âÄúkeeping the dream alive.âÄù Earlier this season, the Gophers had set a goal to be undefeated, 5-0 in the conference, when they faced No. 1 Penn State at Williams Arena at 6 p.m. Saturday. Minnesota only needs to beat Indiana to make that goal a reality. The Gophers (14-2 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) face Indiana Friday at 7 p.m. in the Sports Pavilion, and with a win, will be facing the Nittany Lions Saturday in a battle of the unbeatens. âÄúThis is a very important match for us,âÄù sophomore defensive specialist Hailey Cowles said. âÄúIf we donâÄôt beat Indiana, then our dream isnâÄôt âÄòaliveâÄô as our quote says. Right now, we all are focused on our goals and on beating Indiana.âÄù But that in itself isnâÄôt an easy task. Indiana (9-7, 1-3) is much like Purdue and Northwestern in the fact that it boasts very strong middle blockers. Senior middle blocker Erica Short is averaging 4.86 kills per set this season, with sophomore Ashley Benson adding 3.21 kills per set and a .330 hit percentage. âÄúWeâÄôve seen enough of Indiana to know that theyâÄôre a vastly improved team,âÄù coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúAs of this point, weâÄôre not thinking about Penn State officially, just because weâÄôre spending so much time on Indiana.âÄù Unofficially, there must be some thought going into the Penn State match, as the Nittany Lions have become this yearâÄôs team to beat. Coming into this weekend, Penn State (16-0, 4-0) has won 29 consecutive conference matches, and has outhit opponents by an unheard of margin: .408-.074. The Nittany Lions havenâÄôt even lost a set thus far this season, thanks to outstanding play from their two talented outside hitters, senior Nicole Fawcett and junior Megan Hodge. Both women are averaging 3.89 kills per set, and all six front row players hold hit percentages above .330. âÄúMy perspective is if you out-efficiency your opponents by .100, thatâÄôs really significant,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúI literally have never heard of what theyâÄôre doing. Most people believe that this may be the best college team that has ever been assembled.âÄù Minnesota, a good defensive team, will have every facet of its game tested, including its struggle in blocking on the right side âÄî the same side that will defend against Fawcett and Hodge. But senior setter Rachel Hartmann said that the team felt prepared for the challenge. âÄúI think weâÄôre ready,âÄù she said. âÄúWeâÄôve been working on that a lot this season. We struggled at first, but weâÄôve slowly worked our way up. WeâÄôll be ready for it.âÄù Without a doubt, this is the match the players have been looking forward to all week. And should the Gophers win Friday, the locker room atmosphere may sport a slightly higher level of excitement than usual. But Hebert said it wouldnâÄôt be much more than usual. âÄúSome sports require a higher arousal,âÄù he explained. âÄúIf I were playing middle linebacker, I would need to be highly aroused so I can bust somebody up. If IâÄôm playing golf, IâÄôd prefer low arousal. I think our sport is kind of in the middle. We need to be revved up, but we canâÄôt lose it all in one explosion.âÄù Aiming for a record When Minnesota takes the court Saturday at Williams Arena, it will be taking a shot at breaking the school attendance record, set at 10,927 in 2004 . As always, students will get in free with their student ID, and as the Gophers prepared to take on their biggest challenge of the year, Hebert, Cowles and Hartmann all urged students to come to the match. âÄúIf you want to see a great show, you should definitely come,âÄù Hartmann said. âÄúThereâÄôs going to be so many people here, and itâÄôs the biggest game that might be on this campus this year. If we can pack the gym, I think it could be pretty intimidating.âÄù