Minnesota sweeps two and then gets swept

Mark Heise

For Minnesota’s volleyball team, which started the season with high hopes and plenty of potential, it was a weekend of mixed reviews.

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The 12th-ranked Gophers quickly disposed of the teams they were supposed to beat, topping Eastern Kentucky and Utah State in three-game sweeps, but fell to No. 15 California to finish 2-1 on the weekend at the Golden Bear Classic.

Coach Mike Hebert called the weekend a learning experience, saying he was willing to give up early-season wins in order to prepare for the conference season.

“It’s a team that is on course to becoming a really good team by the time the conference season rolls around,” he said. “We’ve been playing a pretty tough schedule, and we’re paying the price in the win/loss department, but we’re gaining an awful lot of learning moments that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

Minnesota (4-3, 0-0 Big Ten) opened up the tournament against Eastern Kentucky (1-8, 0-0 Ohio Valley), and took advantage of the struggling Colonels.

Sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig led the team with 12 kills and a .450 hitting percentage, and the Gophers’ defense held Eastern Kentucky to a pitiful negative .163 hit percentage en route to the 30-12, 30-18, 30-11 sweep.

“Our goal was to make a statement in that first match,” freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer said. “We came out strong and ended up beating them pretty handily.”

Gibbemeyer contributed with six kills and a .556 hitting percentage.

Utah State (3-4, 0-0 Western Athletic) provided Minnesota with more of a challenge than Eastern Kentucky, but the Gophers managed to make plays down the stretch to pick up another sweep by scores of 30-19, 30-28 and 30-21.

Gibbemeyer recorded twelve kills and five digs, while senior middle blocker Jessy Jones added six kills and seven blocks.

“I thought we played the important points well mentally,” Hebert said. “We weren’t wrapped too tight against Utah State, and when it came down to who’s going to win and lose, I thought we played those points very well.”

The only real test for the Gophers came in the final match against California. The Golden Bears (8-1, 0-0 Pac Ten) played what Hebert called “one heck of a match,” taking away Minnesota’s offensive strengths to hold the Gophers to a .019 hitting percentage.

Minnesota was out-blocked for the first time this season as California ran away with the 30-16, 30-21, 30-19 victory.

“We have to realize we have a target on our back,” Jones said. “Teams are going to bring their best against us, so we can’t play mediocre volleyball. We were supposed to beat Cal, but we didn’t put the extra effort into it, and they did.”

“There really wasn’t anything we did well in that match,” Hebert added.

Sophomore libero Christine Tan recorded 13 digs in the loss, leading the team.

Jones compared the loss to last season’s meltdown against Michigan, costing the Gophers a conference championship.

“We usually have one of these types of disappointing losses per year,” she said. “I’m just glad it happened now and not in the Big Ten. Last year, it cost us the tournament. Now we can prevent it from happening instead of being afraid it will happen again.”