Minnesota blows past pair of Michigan teams

Karlie Hauer led the Gophers with 12 blocks over the weekend.

Gophers outside hitter Ashley Wittman spikes the ball against Nebraska at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Gopher’s outside hitter Ashley Wittman spikes the ball against Nebraska at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013.

by David Nelson

The Gophers needed only seven sets to knock off two tough opponents over the weekend, sweeping No. 18 Michigan and defeating No. 17 Michigan State in four sets.

With the wins, the Gophers completed the season sweep of the two Michigan teams for the first time since 2005.

“We’re happy to come away with two wins,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said after the game Saturday, “especially tonight, because Michigan State not only played well, but we had to make some changes during the match.”

Those changes included finding a replacement for senior setter Alexandra Palmer, who went down with an undisclosed injury.

In turn, sophomore setter Sydney Howard and freshman setter Katie Schau stepped up in Palmer’s absence.

“The people we put in did a really nice job,” McCutcheon said. “They responded well. They competed.”

While the loss of a player can be tough on a team, the Gophers got a chance to show off the depth that has helped them all season.

“Anyone can go in at any point and help us make a difference,” senior outside hitter Ashley Wittman said. “You know that if you come off the bench and you’re put on the court … you need to do a job. And anyone can do that.”

Wittman said the 6-2 formation the Gophers ran this weekend against both Michigan and Michigan State made all the difference.

Minnesota averaged a .331 hitting percentage this weekend to go along with a combined 25.5 team blocks over the two-match span. Sophomore outside hitter Karlie Hauer had 12 blocks over the weekend, and her play off the bench was crucial in Minnesota’s success.

Hauer said her performance on the court is a reflection of the competition she faces in practice.

While she’s played in only 37 sets this season, Hauer said she feels confident subbing into big games. Her team’s confidence was vital to her success, she said.

“That really helped me stay confident and calm and do what I needed to do to help the team out,” Hauer said.

Minnesota still has two matches in the regular season — a home match against Wisconsin on Wednesday and a trip to Illinois on Saturday.