Hebert reaches milestone with wins

Mark Heise

Sometimes, when teams are playing well, things just seem to go their way.

That happened on the road for Minnesota’s volleyball team this weekend as the Gophers stayed hot, extending their winning streak to six mathces while posting their first two wins in the Big Ten over Northwestern and Illinois.

Coach Mike Hebert talked about the improvement his team has shown on defense, attributing it partly to two returned seniors, libero Malama Peniata and outside hitter Kelly Bowman.

“We’ve been playing well recently and it has a lot to do with our passing game,” he said. “Once we got these two players back, we’ve been provided with better ball control and that sort of makes other things fall into place.”

Minnesota (8-4 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) made use of its ball control to fight through a tough five-game match against Northwestern (6-4, 0-1) Friday night. Things were a little easier Saturday as the Gophers swept Illinois (9-3, 0-2).

Having shown signs of the solid play that earned them credibility as contenders earlier this season, Northwestern looked like a tough way for Minnesota to start the conference season.

The Gophers struggled early in the match dominated by defense, losing the first game 27-30 and being in danger of dropping game two, down 21-25. Minnesota picked up the pace later in the competition, choosing a good time for a 6-0 run and rallying to pick up the 30-28 win.

On a roll, the Gophers breezed through the third game. Senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson recorded eight kills to lead Minnesota to a 30-19 win, and it looked like the Gophers had the match wrapped up.

Northwestern wasn’t done quite yet, making a comeback after trailing 25-28 in the fourth game, and forcing game five with a 32-30 win. The Gophers survived a close fifth game, winning the match 15-12 with an ace from Bowman.

Sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig led Minnesota with 18 kills on the night,

while Nelson added 16. Senior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston contributed eight kills and led the team with three aces. The Gophers hit just .122 for the match, but out-blocked the Wildcats 16-8 while holding them to a .113 hit percentage.

Nelson said the offense wasn’t as strong as the team would have liked it to be, but was happy with the defensive effort.

“We struggled offensively and that’s what sent this match into five games,” she said. “Our defense really helped us out, though, and in the end, a win is a win and we’ll take that, especially on the road.”

The Gophers improved on Friday’s match and started off strong against the Illini. Minnesota took advantage of Illinois’ 20 hitting errors over the first two games to take a 2-0 lead with a 30-27 and a 30-18 win.

The Gophers overpowered the Illini defensively, recording 11 blocks while holding Illinois to a .125 hit percentage.

With a 2-0 lead, Minnesota seemed to cool down in game three. Illinois took advantage, picking up 19 kills and leading throughout most of the game.

With the game tied at 30, Cumpston came through for the Gophers, delivering back-to-back kills for a 32-30 win. The win gave Minnesota their fourth sweep in five matches.

Nelson led the team with 12 kills and recorded her 1,000th career kill midway through the match, becoming just the 18th player in the Gophers’ history to reach the mark.

Roehrig finished with 10 kills, while junior middle blocker Jessy Jones added nine kills and led the team with eight blocks.

Jones attributed the improvement between matches to a calmer mood.

“I think in the Northwestern game, we were too excited to play and that caused some problems,” she said. “It was a really easy fix and once we settled down we played much better against Illinois. I think if we keep it up, the Big Ten is going to be really fun this year.”

Hebert surpasses record

With the 3-0 win over Illinois last Saturday, Hebert surpassed Stephanie Schleuder on Minnesota’s all-time wins list, establishing himself as

the winningest coach in school history. The win marked the 264th of his career and came against the team he coached before taking over for the Gophers.

“It shows the consistency of performance that my team has demonstrated,” he said. “To post numbers like that, you have to have a good team all the time, not just once or twice. I’ve appreciated the effort and performance my teams have shown.”