Looking to avenge a five-game loss at Wisconsin earlier this season, the Minnesota volleyball team will look to pounce on the Badgers at home this weekend to move past them in the Big Ten standings.
But, before the 17th-ranked Gophers (20-5, 10-4 Big Ten) host No. 13 Wisconsin (18-5, 10-4 Big Ten) on Saturday, they must beat a hot Northwestern (14-10, 5-9 Big Ten) squad tonight that features two Big Ten Players of the Week.
Northwestern sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Anderson was named Player of the Week and senior libero Christie Gardner split Defensive Player of the Week honors with Minnesota senior libero Paula Gentil.
“Northwestern, I think, is one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten this year,” coach Mike Hebert said. “They are a very dangerous team.”
Northwestern will come into tonight’s match at the Sports Pavilion having won its last two matches.
“Obviously they have a lot of momentum behind them,” sophomore middle blocker Jessy Jones said. “They’re going to come in just thinking they have everything behind them.”
However, the Wildcats are not very good, statistically. They rank in the bottom half of the league in many offensive and defensive categories.
In the last meeting between the two schools, on Sept. 24, Northwestern managed to hit only .088. The Gophers hit for .209 in that game.
Yet Hebert said he knows this Northwestern team is better now than what it was in September.
“We have to make sure our team doesn’t assume that we’re going to be playing the same team that we beat 3-0.”
Hebert and Jones also said they know the team cannot look past the Wildcats with Wisconsin coming to town on Saturday.
“Everybody that has roots (in Wisconsin) is waiting for Wisconsin,” Jones said. “But I know if we overlook Northwestern it’s going to be a bad weekend.”
When the Badgers and the Gophers do meet, the matches usually go the distance, making the rivalry that much more special. Five of the past seven matches between the teams have gone to a fifth game.
“Wisconsin is personal,” Jones said. “Every year we lose at Wisconsin, and when they come up here we pounce on them.”
Gentil said the match should be fun because the rivalry brings the best out of the players.
Minnesota will need Gentil to continue her strong defensive play of late to beat the Badgers. The early season match at Wisconsin featured 65 kills by the Badgers and they rank fourth in the Big Ten with a .254 hitting percentage.
Gentil said she is feeling better about her play now than earlier in the season, partly because her injured ankle is getting better.
Even while Wisconsin’s hitting might pose a challenge to the Gophers defense, it’s the Badgers’ ability to block that has Hebert worried. Minnesota has struggled against good blocking teams this season.
“They’re a big blocking team,” Hebert said. “They rank up there with Penn State as among the most physical teams.”