Gophers close season against first-place Penn State

by Lindsay Guentzel

On Sunday, 64 volleyball teams will receive berths to the 2010 NCAA tournament, and thereâÄôs a good chance the No. 15 Gophers will have a spot waiting for them. Sitting at 12-6 in the Big Ten, the Gophers picked up decisive road wins over Wisconsin and No. 10 Illinois last weekend, boosting both their RPI and national ranking. With only two matches remaining in the regular season, the Gophers host Ohio State and No. 8 Penn State this weekend in their last chances to prove to the selection committee that they deserve a high seed. ItâÄôs certainly not an easy way to finish the season for the Gophers, who lost to both teams earlier this year. But theyâÄôre looking like a better team this time around, with a full-strength roster after a string of injuries and the momentum of a come-from-behind five-set upset of Illinois on Saturday. âÄúThe two matches on the road this weekend were critical in terms of how they impacted our confidence level,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúItâÄôs important at this point in the season that everyone feel that confidence and has some momentum generated into the play-offs.âÄù Leading the Big Ten with a 15-3 record, Penn State will no doubt be the biggest challenge for the Gophers, Hebert said. Penn State could clinch its eighth consecutive conference title with a weekend sweep over Iowa and Minnesota. The Gophers would guarantee third with a sweep of their own. âÄúOur players want to beat Penn State, thereâÄôs no question about it,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúBut I like that itâÄôs not just a lame duck thing. Both teams have a lot to play for.âÄù If the Gophers do pull off another weekend sweep, they wonâÄôt have much time to celebrate before tournament selections are announced Sunday afternoon. âÄúYou immediately start making preparations,âÄù said Hebert, who has led the Gophers to 13 tournament appearances since taking over in 1996. âÄúThereâÄôs academics that need to be taken care of. Sometimes we have to take tests on the road. The last-second travel arrangements have to be dealt with. ThereâÄôs a lot of administrative-type work that has to be done right away. âÄúBut in terms of practice and the team, itâÄôs a good opportunity to go right back to fundamentals, and thatâÄôs been my philosophy throughout the years.âÄù