Loss drags Gophers further away from NCAA bid

Minnesota is 1-8 in its last nine and is in danger of missing the postseason.

Mark Heise

Improvement has been evident for the Minnesota volleyball team as of late, but it has yet to translate into victories for the struggling squad.

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What: Volleyball
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: Bloomington, Ind.

The Gophers (13-11 overall, 6-8 Big Ten) failed to win the crucial points in hostile territory Friday at Michigan, dropping a five-game match, 28-30, 30-23, 30-32, 30-22, 11-15, to extend the slump, losing eight of their last nine matches.

“We played the best we’ve played in quite a while,” coach Mike Hebert said. “I was happy with our performance. We played hard all night long, but we just made inexperienced types of mistakes at crucial moments, and that’s become a theme.”

Minnesota appeared to dominate at times, winning by comfortable margins, but struggled to close out the closer games, allowing Michigan to make comebacks.

“It always seems to depend on how we start,” freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer said. “If we do well early on, we usually finish strong, and when we win, we win by a lot. But then every time we get down a little bit, it sets the tempo for the rest of the game.”

Senior middle blocker Jessy Jones led the way with 17 kills and a career-high 11 blocks, while Gibbemeyer added 19 kills and a strong .421 hit percentage.

top volleyball performers

Jessy Jones
17 kills
.375 hit %
9 blocks

Lauren Gibbemeyer
19 kills
.421 hit %
3 blocks

Kyle Roehrig
14 kills
7 blocks

But the Gophers were unable to repeat the type of offensive balance they showcased against Iowa earlier in the week, as the rest of the team hit just .159 against Michigan.

The Wolverines (18-7, 6-7) held Minnesota to a .249 hit percentage, but hit just .206 themselves. Michigan was also bested in blocking and serving, making the results of the match even more frustrating for the Gophers.

“We played well, and we should have definitely pulled it out,” Jones said. “I think it has to do with the fact that we’ve lost a lot of games this season, which we aren’t used to. We need to be able to believe that we’re going to win, instead of being unsure.”

For Jones, the only remaining member of the 2004 team that went to the national finals, optimism has been a big part of her season. Despite going through a losing streak that could potentially end the Gophers’ chances at making the NCAA tournament, the middle blocker has managed to stay positive, saying that it’s an important part of getting her team back on track.

“You’re going to get nowhere from thinking negatively, and nobody wants to hear negatives from a leader,” she said. “You already hear the negatives enough, so there needs to be a positive voice out there. Don’t get me wrong, I get irritated, but that attitude won’t get us anywhere.

“That kind of attitude breaks people, and that’s the last thing we need. We need to build up our confidence, and to do that you need to stay positive.”

Eligibility for the NCAA tournament requires an above .500 record, which means Minnesota will need a minimum of three more wins in its last six matches to be considered for postseason play.

But even with the pressure beginning to grow, Hebert expressed faith in the program, saying they would stick with the same system.

“When you get to this point, you just need to think, ‘just keep coaching, just keep coaching,’ ” he said. “Eventually it will work and something will happen.”