Minnesota begins Big Ten season, hosts Purdue

Team members say this week will be about moving in the right direction.

Mark Heise

The Minnesota volleyball team might have already played four ranked teams this season, but for the Gophers, the real competition begins Friday.

Minnesota (7-3 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) opens up its conference schedule at home this year, hosting Purdue Friday at 7 p.m. and Indiana Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion.

volleyball weekend matches

vs. Purdue
when: 7p.m., today
where: Sports Pavilion
TV: Live Video (Gold Zone)

vs. Indiana
when: 7p.m., today
where: Sports Pavilion
TV: Live Video (Gold Zone)

As important as it is to get off to a good start in a competitive conference like the Big Ten, junior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig said the focus was still more on how well the Gophers could perform than the other teams.

“This weekend is more about us than it is about our opponents,” she said. “It’s important that we are all on our roles and take care of business at every opportunity. That’s how we can be successful.”

Coach Mike Hebert has not lost a conference home opener in eight years but will have to get past Purdue to keep his streak alive.

The Boilermakers, (7-4, 0-0) have struggled through injuries and a tougher preconference schedule than they usually play.

Minnesota overpowered Purdue last year and has won six of the teams’ last seven meetings, but Hebert still cautioned against taking the Boilermakers for granted.

“All of the Big Ten coaches used these past two or three weeks to try to get themselves ready for the conference season,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Purdue will come in here with a head full of steam and be very tough.”

The Boilermakers are led by junior middle blocker Stephanie Lynch, who leads the team in kills per game with 4.21, a hitting percentage of .363, and blocks with 47 over 11 matches.

One of the reasons Minnesota was so successful last year was the fact that they were able to hold Lynch to just 16 kills and a .155 hit percentage over two matches. The Gophers will likely make stopping Lynch a top priority once again Friday.

Indiana (9-3, 0-0) had a terrible conference season in 2006, going just 1-19 in the Big Ten.

Armed with a new coach, the Hoosiers are hoping to make some improvements, and have already shown promise in a close loss to No. 21 St. Johns earlier this season.

“We’re always looking forward to seeing how the other teams in the conference are improving,” junior setter Rachel Hartmann said. “The Big Ten is getting better every year, and teams that weren’t quite as good are now giving us a run for our money. We need those matches to keep you working hard all the time.”

Indiana comes in with a pair of threats. Senior outside hitter Lauren Ditteon has been a key all-around player for the Hoosiers, hitting over .300 while also providing 2.7 digs per game.

Ditteon is second on the team with 21 service aces and has also provided some defense at the net, recording 32 blocks.

Junior outside hitter Erica Short complements Ditteon, providing nearly five kills per game for Indiana.

In the Gophers’ last meeting with Indiana, senior middle blocker Jessy Jones led the team to a three-game sweep, providing 13 kills and a .375 hit percentage.

But last year’s results didn’t seem to be of much interest to Hebert, who remained focused on this season.

“Indiana is playing a lot better than their record indicates,” Hebert said. “We will not be taking them lightly. I believe the Hoosiers could be one of the surprise teams in the league this year, they’re just too good to hang out in last place forever.”