Volleyball team still looking for confidence

The Gophers volleyball team’s return to campus was short-lived this week. In fact, it was barely long enough to unpack their bags.
After a quick sweep against Drake on Wednesday, the team headed out west for the second time in two weeks. This time it’s to Oregon for the Nike Invitational.
But Minnesota is still thinking about last weekend when the Gophers lost a heartbreaker to No. 10 UCLA. Despite the 3-2 loss, setter Lindsey Berg said the team gained a lot of confidence that will help when the Big Ten season rolls around in two weeks.
“(The match against UCLA) showed we could play with the top 10,” Berg said. “I think we benefitted from going out and playing some really tough teams, rather than having a very easy tournament where we just blow everyone out.”
Outside hitter Nicole Branagh echoed Berg’s remarks, saying games against tough teams are a good measure of where the Gophers are.
“We’re almost there,” Branagh said. “We can compete with those teams.”
Coach Mike Hebert hopes to continue the confidence building on this weekend’s road trip. He said Oregon will be the toughest of the Gophers’ three opponents this weekend.
“They’ll be at home, and they obviously won’t go down quickly,” Hebert said. “They’re probably a level or two above Drake.”
In order to have a successful road trip, the Gophers will need some new additions to the team to step up.
Two of those new players Hebert would like to see excel are freshman outside hitter Lisa Axel and junior transfer Charnette Fair.
Both players received a solid amount of playing time Wednesday night against Drake.
Hebert was pleasantly surprised with the solid play of Axel. Not because she is a freshman, but because she wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
Axel is still recovering from toe surgery in February, an injury that prevents her from completing an entire practice.
But Hebert has confidence in Axel and plans to use this weekend as another test for her.
“It’s important to see how she can play under pressure,” Hebert said. “Her ball control will help steady the passing end of the game.”
Axel — who started in place of Stephanie Hagen against Drake — had three service aces. Fair contributed to the win with five kills.
Hagen, who was out with an ankle sprain, is listed as day-to-day, but Hebert said her return to the lineup might be a while.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]