U works through sluggish performance to win

Minnesota hit just .234, the sixth time the team has hit below .300 during the conference season

by Ben Goessling

IOWA CITY, Iowa – On Tuesday, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert called Iowa’s cavernous Carver-Hawkeye Arena a “rat’s nest” – not a place you come to play your best volleyball.

The moniker was appropriate since the ninth-ranked Gophers’ match with Iowa Wednesday night was one the team was just looking to survive.

Minnesota did emerge with a 3-1 win, running its road record to 10-0 this season. But that was about all Hebert could say for the team’s performance, a 30-27, 23-30, 30-27, and 31-29 victory before a sparse crowd of 384.

“We looked flat and tired, but we had just enough,” Hebert said. “We haven’t played well in a few matches, but I feel good about the win.”

Minnesota (19-3, 6-1 Big Ten) managed an overall hitting percentage of just .234, the sixth time the team has hit below .300 during the conference season.

Save for the third game, where the team posted a .353 hitting percentage and recorded a season-high 27 kills, Minnesota displayed many of the characteristics it showed in its five-game loss to Illinois last Saturday.

A low hitting percentage and 31 errors by his team aside, Hebert attributed a greater part of the team’s offensive struggles to its continuing inability to terminate the ball.

“I’m very concerned with the offense,” Hebert said. “We have to find somebody on their game offensively before Saturday. When everybody’s off their game, who do you set to?”

The Gophers must solve that riddle before the weekend, as eighth-ranked Penn State visits the Sports Pavilion on Saturday.

Setter Lindsey Vander Well attributed the team’s struggles to its lack of communication inside Carver-Hawkeye arena, which was built to host Iowa’s basketball teams and capacity crowds of over 15,000.

“When there are so few people in such a big gym, it’s really hard to hear on the court,” Vander Well said. “We talked about making this gym our own, but we let down on communication.”

Hebert credited a much-improved Iowa team, whose unusual offensive style gave Minnesota fits all night.

The Hawkeyes’ passes to back-row hitters confused Minnesota’s block, which was often forced to commit to one side of the court, giving Iowa (8-9, 2-5) scores of open shots.

“They threw over a lot of junk,” outside hitter Erin Martin said of the Hawkeyes, who run a similar offensive style to Penn State. “We struggled with it, but it will definitely help for Saturday.”

Minnesota won the first game 30-27 behind five kills from Martin, who posted a career-high 25 kills in Wednesday’s match. But in game two, the Gophers’ problems returned.

Minnesota’s offensive struggles and a .113 hitting percentage allowed Iowa to lead by as many as 13 points before a late Gophers rally closed the gap to six. Vander Well’s service error, however, sealed a 30-23 win for the Hawkeyes.

Vander Well handed out 24 assists in the third game on her way to 74 for the match, tying a team record for a four-game contest.

For the match, sophomore Amanda Cipperly added a season-high 10 kills while freshman Paula Gentil tied a career high with 27 digs.

After holding on for a 31-29 win in game four, the Gophers escaped out of the gym in a matter of minutes, win in hand and breathing a sigh of relief.

“It’s tough to come down here in the middle of the week,” Hebert said. “There’s been a virus going around the team, and we’re just tired.”

Tough baggage to carry into a rat’s nest.

Ben Goessling covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]