It wasn’t a playoff game or a final four, but the Gophers volleyball team played Saturday like a Big Ten title was on the line.
The fans at the Sports Pavilion felt it, too. All 1,311 stood during game-deciding points. One famous fan, University women’s athletics director Chris Voelz, did the Macarena. And before the weekend was over, the new-look Gophers knocked off a powerhouse.
“No, I’m not surprised,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said of the team’s 3-0 sweep of eighth-ranked Ohio State. “I hope this doesn’t sound cocky, but after looking at video tape of their team, I thought we could win this.”
Give an assist to those cross-the-border rivals, Wisconsin. On Friday night in Madison, Wisc., the 11-0 Badgers swept the Buckeyes. Minnesota capitalized on a frustrated team that, like the Gophers, had its share of injuries.
“That’s the nature of the beast in this conference,” Ohio State coach Jim Stone said. “I don’t think (the loss to Wisconsin) had anything to do with our loss to Minnesota.”
The Gophers (10-5 overall, 1-1 in the Big Ten) felt differently. “It helped us because we always beat Wisconsin,” Gophers setter Becky Bauer said. “I think it brought them down even though they don’t want to say that.”
A day earlier, Minnesota fell to No. 2-ranked Penn State 15-11, 15-3, 15-12. Down by a deficit 10-4 in the first game, the Lions rallied and took control.
The Gophers were upset with themselves on Saturday. “We had a little talk with coach,” said Bauer who had 37 assists against Ohio State (11-2, 0-2). “We don’t have a problem getting ahead. The team just has to push through those last five points.”
Ironically, Ohio State was ahead of the Gophers 10-4 in the first game, only to see Minnesota rally for an 11-2 run. The Gophers took them in straight games, 15-12, 15-13, 15-11.
Did Coach Hebert’s chat work?
“As a team we have to know what’s required when the team is at 10 points, what frame of mind it takes to win,” Hebert said.
Minnesota was nearly without Tara Baynes, the team’s middle blocker. She missed much of last week’s practice due to a back injury.
Baynes wound up playing late Friday, and her presence was more a factor than her stats (4 kills, 3 blocks) Saturday.
At .500 in the conference, Minnesota prepares for a grueling two weeks on the road. The team travels to Iowa for a game Friday. And perhaps the most intriguing match-up in college volleyball takes place Saturday, when Hebert returns to Illinois. Only this time, he won’t be the fan-favorite who won four Big Ten titles for the Illini dating back to 1983.
The fans in Illinois will likely be a bit more hostile than those at the Sports Pavilion over the weekend.
“I don’t know if Illinois will be fired up to beat me,” Hebert said. “I’m sure there will be some people glad to see me, and others who feel they were betrayed by me.”
Penn State 15 15 15 — 3
Gophers 11 3 12 — 0
Kills: DeDecker 17, Passer 9, Pearman 9, Fiamengo 7, Bauer 5, Baynes 4, McDonell 3.
Digs: Pearman 14, Passer 11, DeDecker 9, McDonnel 9, Fiamengo 6, Baynes 5.
Assists: Bauer 40, DeDecker 3.
Ohio State 12 13 11 — 0
Gophers 15 15 15 — 3
Kills: DeDecker 25, Passer 9, Pearman 6, Bauer 6, Fiamengo 7, Baynes 4.
Digs: Pearman 14, Passer 8, DeDecker 7, Baynes 6, Bauer 6, Shudlick 4, Baker 5, Fiamengo 4.
Assists: Bauer 37, Miller 8, Fiamengo 3, Pearman 2.