Schedule not getting any easier for Minnesota

Junior libero Christine Tan (center) celebrates with teammates Rachel Hartman (left) and Lauren Gibbemeyer (right) in a match at the Sports Pavilion.

Ashley Goetz

Junior libero Christine Tan (center) celebrates with teammates Rachel Hartman (left) and Lauren Gibbemeyer (right) in a match at the Sports Pavilion.

With the nonconference schedule out of the way, the Minnesota volleyball teamâÄôs schedule wonâÄôt be getting any easier. The 12th-ranked Gophers (10-2 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) go right back to facing nationally ranked competition this weekend, taking on Northwestern on Friday and No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday at the Sports Pavilion. Both matches begin at 7 p.m. âÄúWeâÄôre always going back and forth with these two teams,âÄù senior setter Rachel Hartmann said. âÄúIf youâÄôre having a bad day, itâÄôs not going to go well. ItâÄôs a tough weekend to start the Big Ten, but weâÄôre excited for it.âÄù The Badgers (10-2, 0-0) overpowered Minnesota in both meetings last season, using a strong blocking core and a tremendous serve to sweep the Gophers both at home and on the road. But this year, Wisconsin isnâÄôt ranked in the top 10, and hasnâÄôt seen any ranked competition in preseason play. The Badgers have fallen victim to slow starts twice, hitting just .141 as a team in a four-set loss to Miami (Ohio) and committing 15 service errors to lose in five to Oregon State. âÄúLast year Wisconsin handed it to us,âÄù sophomore defensive specialist Hailey Cowles said. âÄúThey served us off the court. I think this year weâÄôre going to be ready for them. WeâÄôre going hard in practice this week, in hopes of turning the tables on them.âÄù While Northwestern may not receive the same national attention Wisconsin does, the Wildcats (6-5, 0-0) have recently proven to be a tough team to face as well. In the last five meetings of the two teams, three have gone to five sets, with Northwestern winning two. The Wildcats have made heavy use of their only two players currently hitting over .200, as both middle blockers, sophomore Sabel Moffett and senior Chelsy Hyser, average more than 2.8 kills per set while hitting above .300. But like Wisconsin, Northwestern has also been error-prone with its serve, committing 71 errors while serving 56 aces. But even with the teamâÄôs downfalls, coach Mike Hebert said he knows from experience not to overlook Northwestern. âÄúWe will not let our team look ahead,âÄù he said. âÄúIf we spot anybody being complacent and looking ahead, weâÄôre going to jump on it right away, and thatâÄôs pretty much all you can do.âÄù But Minnesota wonâÄôt be doing a lot of looking behind them either. The Gophers ended a very good nonconference season on a sour note, losing in five sets to North Carolina. And while Cowles said the team remembers that match for motivational purposes, Hartmann added that the rest of it has already been forgotten. âÄúThis weekend, the key is to just to move on,âÄù Hartmann said, âÄúIt was a tough match, and weâÄôve already talked about it and learned from it. It was better for that to come during preseason instead of the Big Ten.âÄù Like last week, Minnesota will again be focusing on a stronger right-side block, but aside from that, Hebert said he couldnâÄôt be happier with how things are currently going. âÄúIf somebody would have told me that weâÄôd start the Big Ten ranked 12th, with a 10-2 record, I would have taken that and run,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre really happy with what weâÄôve accomplished so far.âÄù