Gophers go 2-0 in Big Ten opening weekend

Volley Ball

Tony Morimoto

Volley Ball

Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert may have called the game-play âÄòBlahâÄô at times this weekend, but itâÄôs hard not to be happy with a pair of wins to open up the conference season. The No. 12 Gophers (12-2 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) swept Northwestern 25-22, 25-23, 26-24 Friday at the Sports Pavilion, then topped No.18 Wisconsin in four sets Saturday, 23-25, 25-10, 26-24, 25-20. âÄúGoing 2-0 on the weekend, I feel great,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúIâÄôll take that and run any day, especially against these teams.âÄù Minnesota didnâÄôt hit very well in either match, posting hit percentages of .214 against Northwestern and .207 against Wisconsin, but the GophersâÄô trademark defense was strong in both cases. Opponents were out-blocked by Minnesota 28-15 over two matches, and the Gophers showed off their solid back-row play, holding Northwestern and Wisconsin to hit percentages of .181 and .112, respectively. âÄúThatâÄôs our signature at this point,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúFor the last five or six years weâÄôve been like this. I like the way we play defense, itâÄôs the one thing we can point to match after match thatâÄôs there for us. âÄúWe can make a lot of mistakes but as long as we can count on blocking and defense, we can stay in the match.âÄù Northwestern (6-7, 0-2) did exactly what Hebert predicted, as the scrappy Wildcats stayed in every set and forced Minnesota to make plays late in each set to win. But sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer and junior outside hitter Pamela Luiz made those big plays late in each set, leading the Gophers to the win. Gibbemeyer finished the match with 14 kills, 6 blocks and a .321 hit percentage, while Luiz hit .562 with 9 kills and 5 blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Brook Dieter added 15 kills, and returned to the back row, collecting 9 digs. âÄúIt definitely was fun for me tonight,âÄù Dieter said. âÄúI love hitting out of the back row, serve-receive, all of it.âÄù Dieter continued to play all the way around through the first two sets with Wisconsin (10-4, 0-2), and was one of the five Gophers to collect 10 or more digs against the Badgers. Minnesota served aggressively throughout the match, collecting six aces and forcing Wisconsin into passing errors. Following a close first-set loss, the Gophers tightened up their offense and cut down on errors, leading to a big second-set win. âÄúWe were making a lot of uncharacteristic errors, it felt like we were playing with jitters,âÄù senior captain middle blocker Kelly Schmidt said. âÄúI think we just calmed down and went back to what weâÄôre good at.âÄù Down 22-24 in the third set, Gibbemeyer and Dieter continued to make the late-set plays the Gophers were missing last season. The sophomores combined for three kills and a block on four consecutive points, leading to a pivotal third-set win, which paved the way for Minnesota to win the match. Junior libero Christine Tan collected 21 digs and a pair of aces to lead MinnesotaâÄôs back row, while GibbemeyerâÄôs 16 kills and 10 blocks led the GophersâÄô offense. Schmidt added seven kills and four blocks.