Spikers dominate at home tourney

Jeff Barthel

During Minnesota volleyball’s last of three matches over the weekend in its home tournament, the usual shouts from the public announcer of, “Treeeeee Bratford with the kill” was shortened to just plain “Treeeeee.”

The announcer probably became winded from announcing her name time after time.

Bratford was instrumental in guiding her teammates to Saturday night’s win over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, clinching the tournament title for the Gophers.

“For once, this season, as we played the match we got sharper and sharper,” coach Mike Hebert said. “By the end of the match, I thought we were very crisp.”

This was especially true in Bratford’s performance. The 5-foot-11-inch junior outside hitter was dominant against the Panthers. The California native finished with a team-high 17 kills and a .279 hitting percentage Saturday evening.

Bratford was selected to the all-tournament team for her efforts, and joined teammates Cassie Busse (MVP) and Paula Gentil on the list.

“I felt good tonight,” Bratford said. “The rhythm was great and Lindsey (Tattjes, the team’s setter) was putting the balls right on the money where I could really swing at them.”

With the help of teammate Erin Martin’s eight kills and team-leading .294 hitting percentage, the Gophers were able to defeat Milwaukee (9-4) in straight sets 30-24, 30-24, 30-23.

Minnesota had an even easier time in its Saturday afternoon victory over a Charlotte team that was no contest for the Gophers, who have now won seven of their past eight matches.

The match against Charlotte featured a new career-high in hitting percentage for Minnesota all-American Cassie Busse, who didn’t even notice how well she played.

“I just take it point by point and look to go 1-0 for each point,” Busse said about her record-setting performance.

Minnesota’s senior captain finished the match with an astounding .680 hitting percentage, while also leading the team with 19 kills.

The .680 hitting percentage tops her old career-high of .650, set in a match versus Seton Hall in 2001.

The 49ers (5-9) looked awful against the Gophers. Minnesota finished the match hitting .298 while Charlotte hit .039. The Gophers won the match, again in straight sets 30-18, 30-26, 30-25.

Friday night’s match versus Colorado State (9-4) was not as easy as the other two.

“We struggled,” Hebert said. “But we were able to pull off a difficult win.”

The Gophers prevailed in five games 30-26, 23-30, 20-30, 30-24, 15-9.

After dropping games two and three by a relatively sizeable margin – a 17 point spread between the losses – Minnesota was in serious need of some offensive fire power.

Delivering for the Gophers, once again, was Busse. The senior standout had an awe-inspiring performance late in Friday’s match.

Busse came up with the game four winner on a service ace that sent a Ram defender crashing into media row. The Gophers took the game 30-24.

In game five Busse had major influence on the game’s decisive outcome. She slammed down kill after kill, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

The senior dominated game five, finishing with an ace and seven kills, or eight of the 15 points her team needed to record the victory over the CSU.

Sweeping three unranked opponents was a positive finish to the Gophers’ pre-Big Ten season. However, there’s much more competition on the horizon.

The Gophers begin conference play this weekend. Minnesota first travels to Indiana, taking on the Hoosiers on Friday. The team will then end their road trip with a match against Purdue on Saturday evening in West Lafayette, Ind.