Minnesota returns home after solid road weekend

Last week, the Gophers lost to No. 2 Penn State but beat No. 14 Ohio State.

Mark Heise

C

Coming off a big road win over Ohio State last weekend, Minnesota’s volleyball team will have some added momentum to go with its home-court advantage.

The 23rd-ranked Gophers (11-5 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) who are undefeated at home this season, host Indiana at 7 tonight at the Sports Pavilion. The team moves to Williams Arena for its match against No. 9 Purdue at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The weekend showcases two entirely different teams, as Purdue is currently tied with the Gophers for second place in the Big Ten and Indiana has looked lost since entering conference play.

The Hoosiers (10-8, 1-5) started their season strong, sweeping through nonconference play to build a 9-3 record. But Indiana ran into a brick wall once the Big Ten season began, getting swept by a struggling Iowa squad and winning only five games in six matches played.

Indiana relies on sophomore outside hitter Erica Short for a large portion of its offense. Short averages 4.77 kills per game and is the only player on the team to average more than 2.5 kills per game.

The Hoosiers’ poor offense will probably run into trouble against the defense Minnesota has been showcasing over the past weeks, but sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann said the team won’t be taking any chances.

“We aren’t going to be overlooking any teams this year,” she said. “That’s where teams get into trouble. We try to have the same level of focus whether we’re playing (No. 2) Penn State or Indiana.”

The Gophers might need some extra focus against Purdue (15-2, 5-1) as the Boilermakers have been nothing but hot from the start of the season.

Purdue’s lone loss in the conference came as a sweep at the hands of undefeated Penn State. Four of their wins have come in five-game matches against Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, and those matches have shown off a few weaknesses.

Despite a strong blocking game, Purdue’s defense has been suspect at times, recording only 50 digs in the five-game win against Michigan State and allowing unranked Southern California a .344 hit percentage during a four-game loss.

Senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman expressed confidence going into the match.

“Purdue is a pretty scrappy team and has played well all season,” she said. “But with our success so far, especially on our last road trip, I think we’re pretty confident that if we play well, we can compete with any team.”

Minnesota has showcased its defense all season long but has run into trouble from time to time with its offensive output.

The Gophers have posted a .237 hit percentage on the year but have dropped down to .196 during conference play.

Coach Mike Hebert mentioned the struggling offense as a priority for improvement.

“We’ve turned into a defensively oriented team,” he said. “And while we want our defense to be a focal point, we need our offense to be more consistent to succeed. An improved offense is one of our keys for the weekend.”

Gophers look to set attendance record

Minnesota will play its annual match Saturday at Williams Arena against Purdue, taking on a ranked team in what is normally the best-attended match of the season.

The Gophers are looking to break their attendance record of 10,927 fans from a 2004 match against Illinois at Williams Arena.