Spikers fly past weekend opponents

The No. 19 Minnesota volleyball team headed out on the road with the word “upset” on the mind of the Gophers’ opponents.
But that word was not used this weekend.
The Gophers (22-5, 12-2 Big Ten) dominated Northwestern and Wisconsin-Green Bay to stretch their win streak to five matches.
Lindsey Berg and her ever-improving jump serve baffled the opponents. Berg had 11 aces during the weekend, including a career-high eight against the Wildcats.
“I was surprised. I’ve never heard of anyone having eight aces,” Berg said. “My serve has been working pretty well lately.”
Coach Mike Hebert — who has been a head coach since 1976 — was equally impressed.
“Lindsey Berg probably had the best weekend of anybody on the team,” Hebert said. “She is hitting it with the most power and pop that I have ever seen before.”
Sunday afternoon Minnesota beat up on the Phoenix (4-24) in a nonconference showdown, 15-5, 15-6, 15-6.
The Gophers offense was on fire in this one — they committed only 10 hitting errors and hit a remarkable .532 in the match.
Minnesota was led by Nicole Branagh and Stephanie Hagen, who knocked down 15 and 12 kills respectively.
Berg said the Gophers had a tough time getting up for this match — both physically and mentally.
“We had all Saturday off. Then we had to wake up at seven on Sunday, eat and get ready,” Berg said. “It was difficult, but we just wanted to get it over with.”
Apparently the Gophers weren’t the only ones who had trouble getting excited for Sunday’s game — only 44 people were in attendance.
On Friday night the Gophers caged the Wildcats 15-12, 15-5, 15-10.
Minnesota’s serving again dictated this match. The Gophers served up 11 aces, including Berg’s eight.
“It really changed the course of the match,” Hebert said. “Northwestern played well, but that jump serve really put them back on their heels.”
Berg said she and the Gophers were expecting the Big Ten-winless Wildcats to be gunning for the upset.
“We came in knowing they were up to beat someone,” she said. “We didn’t have the best match of the season, but we played good enough to beat them.”
Branagh once again led the Gophers with 12 kills, and Hagen pitched in 11 as Minnesota limited its hitting errors to only 15.
Defensively, the Gophers out blocked the Wildcats 12-3. Minnesota also held Northwestern to a .137 hitting percentage.
Northwestern (2-21, 1-13) finally came through with a Big Ten win over Iowa on Saturday night.
ù Branagh continued her surge on Minnesota’s all-time kill record. With 27 kills on the weekend, she jumped over Pam Miller (1,519 career kills) into fourth place. Branagh finished the weekend with 1,533 career kills.
ù Minnesota’s Lisa Axel and Linda Shudlick were given Sunday off to rest what Hebert called “nagging injuries.”
Ali Berres, Shelmadine Cacho and Heather Swenson all saw significant playing time in their teammates’ absences.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected].