Tired Gophers lose at Wisconsin

Kent Erdahl

MADISON, Wis. – In a field house full of costumes, it was fitting that an elaborate tally of statistics served as a disguise for Minnesota’s volleyball team’s third loss of the season.

Despite winning every other major statistical category in their five-game match against Wisconsin on Saturday, the Gophers lost the most important category of all – games.

The Badgers defeated Minnesota 3-2 in front of 5,136 people – many of whom were costume-clad for Wisconsin’s annual Halloween match. On Friday night, No. 2 Minnesota (21-3, 10-2 Big Ten) looked dominant in a three-game sweep of Northwestern.

But Wisconsin outlasted the road-weary Gophers in a thrilling match that featured four games decided by three points or fewer.

“Tip of the cap to Wisconsin. They played a very, very sound match,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “I didn’t think we played poorly, but we didn’t play with the energy we usually do.”

The match was the Gophers’ last in a season-long four-game road trip, and setter Kelly Bowman and outside hitters Erin Martin and Trisha Bratford did their best to finish it 4-0.

Martin and Bratford combined for an astounding 125 attempts. Martin converted 29 for kills, while Bratford tallied 21.

Bowman recorded her nation-leading sixth triple-double – 17 kills, 26 assists and 10 digs – and she hit for a .552 percentage.

Despite the trio’s outstanding play, no other Gophers player recorded more than five kills. Instead, it was Wisconsin’s balanced attack and the pressure it put on Minnesota’s defense that was the difference in the match.

The Badgers had four players reach double-digit kills, and six players record six or more.

Wisconsin’s Sheila Shaw led the team with a career-high 24 kills and Jill Odenthal recorded her season-best with 20.

The duo also sparked the team and the crowd when the Badgers trailed two games-to-one.

Odenthal finished off the Gophers in game four with two consecutive kills to give Wisconsin the 30-27 win, and Shaw helped the Badgers prevail 17-15 in game five with five kills and a .500 hitting percentage.

As the two rose to the occasion, the Badgers’ season-high crowd rose to its feet. The loud environment sometimes translated into chaos on Minnesota’s side of the net.

“It was hard to hear people on the court even when they were two feet from you, and that’s why you’d see balls that would just land from miscommunication,” Bowman said. “My ears are ringing right now because it was so loud in there.”

The loss drops Minnesota into a tie for second in the conference as it heads to a crucial home series against conference-leading Ohio State and second-place Penn State next weekend.

More importantly, The Badgers’ win puts them just a game behind Minnesota and makes them a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title.

“I’m just thrilled with this win,” Wisconsin coach Pete Waite said. “It’s a huge win for our team and the progress we’ve been making over the course of the season.”

And if Wisconsin keeps progressing, it’s a tough loss that could ring in the Gophers’ ears when the conference title is on the line at the end of the season.