Minn. seeks consistency at OSU, PSU

Minnesota (8-3) travels to play No. 24 Ohio State, which swept them in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010, for its first Big Ten road match Friday night.

Charlie Armitz

Winning a volleyball match on the road is tough.

Winning two matches on the road against two ranked Big Ten teams is tougher.

And what the No. 10 Gophers will attempt to do this weekend âÄî all of the above, as well as redeem themselves from a poor road performance a year ago âÄî is as tough as it gets in Division I volleyball.

Minnesota (8-3) travels to play No. 24 Ohio State, which swept them in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010, for its first Big Ten road match Friday night.

The Gophers will complete their road trip Saturday night with a match against No. 9 Penn State.

Minnesota has enjoyed success away from home early in 2011, winning both of its true nonconference road matches in five sets.

But the teamâÄôs last trip to Ohio State and Penn State still looms large. The Gophers fell to the Buckeyes, 25-23, 25-20, 25-17, on Oct. 16, 2010 âÄî one day after losing to Penn State in four sets.

Those two losses came in the middle of a four-match losing streak, MinnesotaâÄôs longest since 2007.

âÄúPlaying on the road, regardless of who you are, is difficult,âÄù interim head coach Laura Bush said. âÄúYou try to steal wins on the road, and make sure that the teams youâÄôre supposed to beat âĦ you take care of them twice.âÄù

The Gophers struggled in that area in 2010, losing four Big Ten road matches to teams ranked below them.

Senior libero Jessica Granquist said she is eager to play away from Minnesota, regardless of the opponent.

âÄúAny place you go, youâÄôre out for blood,âÄù Granquist said. âÄúAs a senior, IâÄôm always out for revenge against any team. We have great teams in the Big Ten, so I donâÄôt think anyone can be taken lightly.âÄù

Sophomore Tori Dixon, the teamâÄôs second-best hitter in kills and hitting percentage, said the team isnâÄôt thinking about its poor showing on the road in 2010.

âÄúWe donâÄôt let things that happened last year affect us,âÄù Dixon said. âÄúI feel like this year, weâÄôre really focused on being our best every single time.âÄù

While Minnesota has yet to lose consecutive matches in 2011, it did show signs of inconsistency while hosting Illinois and Northwestern this past weekend.

The Gophers allowed 13 runs of three points or more in a 3-2 loss to the Illini on Friday, and gave up an 11-0 run to Northwestern on Sunday.

Minnesota defeated the Wildcats 3-1, but not before Bush replaced starting setter Mia Tabberson with freshman Kellie McNeil.

While McNeilâÄôs play was encouraging for the Gophers, Bush said she will have to wait until Friday to decide the teamâÄôs starting setter against Ohio State.

So too will Minnesota fans wonder which Gophers team will show up this weekend.

âÄúWeâÄôre really good and everyone knows that weâÄôre really good,âÄù Dixon said. âÄúBut we need to be really good all the time. It was really streaky at times [this past weekend].âÄù

Just as unpredictable is the play of Ohio State and Penn State, two teams that have struggled against top-25 opponents despite their high ranking.

Ohio State is 11-0 against unranked teams, but has lost all four of its matches against ranked opponents, including a close four-set loss at No. 7 Nebraska on Sept. 24.

Penn State has lost its last three matches to ranked teams, including a five-set loss at Nebraska on Sept. 21, after opening its season with a win over then-No. 2 USC.

Meanwhile, the Gophers are 3-2 against top-25 opponents, and confident that their early-season experience will give them an edge despite their recent struggles.

âÄúWeâÄôre a little better at playing ranked teams, especially on the road,âÄù Dixon said. âÄúWeâÄôre just more prepared âÄî we know what to expect.âÄù

Granquist, the teamâÄôs defensive leader with 4.80 digs per set, traced the teamâÄôs confidence to its opening weekend when it split a pair of five-set matches against USC and Oregon on Penn StateâÄôs home court.

âÄúWeâÄôve had so many five-set matches not on our court,âÄù Granquist said. âÄúThat has allowed us to be more equipped to handle the difficulties of being on the road.âÄù