With weekend sweep, spikers have won a record 13 in a row at home

by Jeff Barthel

Campus parties happen every Saturday night. It’s not uncommon to see fraternity parties, sorority parties, people out celebrating birthdays – any type of get-together.

But one particularly notable party took place at the Sports Pavilion over the weekend.

Minnesota’s 24th-ranked volleyball team set an all-time team record with its 13th consecutive home victory. The Gophers made this accomplishment after sweeping six games and two matches from Big Ten opponents.

After defeating Purdue 3-0 on Friday, the Gophers (19-9, 12-4 Big Ten) celebrated a 3-0 sweep of Indiana (11-15, 4-12) during a match in which the team achieved its new home winning streak thanks in part to 13 total blocks, prompting the announcer to proclaim a “Minnesota block party.”

The block total was the most blocks Minnesota had turned away since its 16-block performance in a 3-0 drubbing of then-13th ranked Penn State earlier this season.

All told, Minnesota swatted away the visiting Hoosiers by a 30-22, 30-25, 30-17 score.

“The efficiency was good tonight,” coach Mike Hebert said following the win over Indiana. “The three middles in there were impressive Ö I thought (Meredith) Nelson, (Athena) Mallakis at the end, played well.”

Nelson, a 6-foot-3-inch freshman, had one of her finest moments when she leaped up to get close and personal with Indiana’s leading blocker, 6-foot-3-inch senior Katie Pollum.

She met Pollum face-to-face and rejected the middle blocker’s attempt to bring Minnesota to within a point in game two at 15-14.

Game two was the only game against Indiana that presented some challenges.

The Gophers were losing throughout most of the game – often down by two or three points throughout the first part of the match – but were able to prevail with a 30-25 win.

“I thought Minnesota did a really nice job (Saturday); they put up big blocks and their outsides stepped well,” Indiana coach Katie Weismiller said.

Nelson finished the night with five blocks. Mallakis did not record a block but had three kills – all in game three – in four attempts.

Also contributing to the team’s block-happy night was seldom-used senior Erin Lorenzen.

“I was really impressed with Lorenzen,” Hebert said. “She just clamped down on three straight swings and stuffed them straight down Ö that’s coming off the bench ready to go.”

Lorenzen stepped in for her fellow senior opposite hitter Cassie Busse with a 24-15 Minnesota lead in game three.

After receiving a warm ovation on her entrance, Lorenzen – one of three Gophers captains – knocked down all three of her blocks within a two-minute span at the end of game three.

The victory also featured a .346 team hitting percentage for the home team. Conversely, Minnesota held Indiana to a .117 mark.

Middle blocker Jessica Byrnes also factored into the win.

The 6-foot-2-inch sophomore had a .524 hitting percentage Saturday.

But her play was even more impressive in Minnesota’s 3-0 win over Purdue on Friday night.

After being down early in game one, Byrnes came through later on, knocking down a kill to tie the score at 24-24.

Minnesota went on to win game one en route to a 30-24, 30-28, 30-21 sweep of the Boilermakers (12-14, 6-10).

“I felt really good,” Byrnes said of her performance. “We had a really slow start but we played well, we finished strong.

“I thought we did a good job establishing the middle early to open things up for the outside.”

Byrnes was speaking of Busse, her All-American teammate who led the team with 20 kills on the night.

Busse also had a .514 hitting percentage, bested only by the .524 mark Byrnes earned.

“(Byrnes) was just killing the ball,” Busse said. “And that left me one-on-one with outsides with (Lindsey) Taatjes putting the ball up there pretty perfectly.”

Taatjes – the team’s setter – led Minnesota with 47 assists on the night.

As a team, the Gophers out-hit Purdue by a .288 to .172 count. They also out-passed the Boilermakers with 58 assists to Purdue’s 45.