Undefeated spikers seek revenge in Rochester

by Brian Stensaas

Call it the great compromise.
Last year, Minnesota’s volleyball team decided to try something new and met Northern Iowa precisely halfway between Minneapolis and Cedar Falls, Iowa, in Rochester, Minn.
But Minnesota’s itinerary included a few detours.
Prior to playing the Panthers in the ninth match of the season, Minnesota had a contest in California, three in Hawaii, three in Oregon and one at the Sports Pavilion. In all, the Gophers spent 13 of 15 days on the road.
Physically and mentally drained, the Gophers limped into the Century High School gym and lost to Northern Iowa in five grueling games.
But that was last year. Wednesday night in Rochester, look for a better-rested Minnesota squad and the same pesky Panthers.
“(Northern Iowa) is an extremely well-coached team that plays with a real chip on its shoulder,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “It’s a cultivated mentality, I think.”
Aside from fatigue, Hebert believes there was another reason the Gophers fell a year ago.
Coming out of the small Missouri Valley conference, Hebert said his players didn’t believe Northern Iowa was capable of knocking off a Big Ten foe like Minnesota.
It happened, and the Panthers went on to finish the season 30-1, losing only to eventual final four representative Pacific in the Sweet 16.
Hebert doesn’t predict an encore.
“They’re every bit as good as last year,” he said of Northern Iowa. “They’re fired up every second of the match. They don’t relax, they don’t let up, they have tremendous determination and play scrappy defense.”
The Panthers return seven letter-winners to this year’s team, including four starters.
Northern Iowa brings a game to the court much like those Minnesota will see throughout the year in the Big Ten. And for the Gophers, another test is just what they need.
Minnesota is 7-0 and ranked ninth in the country in this week’s USA Today poll, matching the best ranking in school history dating back to October 3 and 10 of 1989. But the team hasn’t seen the greatest competition in those seven matches. Only one was against ranked opposition (No. 16 Pacific) and the other six did not compete in the 1999 postseason.
“I’m very anxious to see how our team will be able to fend off that sort of an on-rushing enemy,” Hebert said. “It’s very impressive how they play.”
The match in Rochester starts at 7 p.m.
Deja Vu
For the second straight week, a member of the Minnesota volleyball squad has been named as co-Big Ten player of the week. Junior setter Lindsey Berg was honored for her accomplishments in Atlanta against Georgia State and in the Georgia Tech Classic. Berg posted a total of 12 service aces, averaging one a game. She shared the honor with Sara Meyermann of Iowa.

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected].