Another long weekend on road for U

Sarah Mitchell

Disruptive air currents and a scant gathering of Iowa fans greeted Minnesota’s volleyball team during its first Big Ten road match at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last Friday.
As the Gophers hit the road again this weekend, facing Michigan on Friday, the 22nd-ranked Gophers will dig, serve and pass on a court with a bizarre history.
“It used to be a swimming pool,” assistant coach Maurice Batie said of the court at Michigan. “They took a bunch of chairs and garbage and everything and put it into the pool and filled it with cement.”
This renovated swimming pool, renamed Cliff Keen Arena, is now home to the Wolverines volleyball team. Add in that it only seats 1800 fans and a charged-up Michigan band, making game time conditions unfavorable.
“And typically it will be our match for which they’ll have some big promotion night and they’ll pack the place,” Batie said.
Batie’s prediction is dead on. Michigan (9-6 overall, 1-4 in the Big Ten) is throwing its seventh-annual “Rock the House” night, an event that has drawn more than 10,800 Wolverine backers the past six years. Last season, Michigan set a single-match attendance record when 2,346 fans showed up to pack the bleachers and aisles.
The Wolverines were victorious in four of six Rock the House celebrations, including the last three, as unruly Michigan faithfuls filled the arena to capacity. Two Rock the House defeats were against nationally ranked opponents, No. 16 Michigan State last year and No. 9 Wisconsin in 1996.
The Gophers (12-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) will try to swim upstream in the Big Ten standings at Cliff Keen Arena, but the Wolverines desperately need a win, coming off a 3-0 home loss in a midweek “State Pride” match against Michigan State.
Michigan made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament last season, and returned five starters and 14 letterwinners from that team.
Senior outside hitter Karen Chase leads the Wolverines with 294 kills. But the Gophers have a smasher of their own — sophomore outside hitter Nicole Branagh, who has 286 kills and a .339 hitting percentage.
Branagh and her teammates travel Saturday to Michigan State, which relies heavily on senior outside hitter Jenna Wrobel.
Wrobel, a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, leads the conference with 5.62 kills per game. The outside hitters season kill total of 253 is nearly three times more than the next closest Spartan, Erin Hartley, with 98.
Going up against two dangerous opponents, Minnesota needs a sweep this weekend to improve to better than .500 in conference standings. Seven Big Ten teams are ranked — No. 2 Penn State, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 19 Illinois, No. 20 Ohio State, No. 22 Minnesota, No. 23 Michigan State, No. 24 Indiana — with Michigan receiving votes.
“That’s life in the Big Ten,” Batie said. “Every week you are just going to run into somebody who’s ranked or somebody who’s hungry, and even the teams who are at the bottom of the Big Ten are capable of winning on any given weekend.”