Minnesota ready for the road

Volley Ball

Tony Morimoto

Volley Ball

The Minnesota volleyball team may be entering its toughest stretch of the season. The Gophers hit the road this weekend, starting a series of four matches on the road âÄì a series which includes No. 1 Penn State âÄì and then returning home to face No. 18 Purdue and No. 19 Illinois. Minnesota will begin its challenge this weekend, traveling to Ohio State Friday for a 6 p.m. match, and playing 20th-ranked Michigan Saturday at 6 p.m. But coach Mike Hebert said he felt his team was confident heading into this weekend. âÄúWe seem to be in control of our game whether weâÄôre on the road or at home,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWeâÄôve had some pretty big wins on the road so far this year, so I donâÄôt feel that being on the road will be any specific challenge for us.âÄù Instead, the challenges will come in the teams Minnesota will face. Ohio State (10-10, 1-7) doesnâÄôt look to be much of a challenge at first glance this season, as the Buckeyes are transitioning to a new head coach this season. But despite the teamâÄôs struggles this season, Hebert said Ohio State has one specific advantage in the fact that coach Geoff Carlston has beaten Minnesota before. Carlston upset the Gophers last year as the coach at Ohio, using what Hebert calls his âÄúoffensive creativity.âÄù The Buckeyes have spread the ball around this season, giving seven different players over 190 kill attempts. The Gophers have five players fitting that qualification. Junior middle blocker Kristen Dozier has received most of the swings however, as the athletic attackerâÄôs quickness makes her often available for sets. Dozier is hitting .255 while averaging 2.93 kills per set this year. Even with CarlstonâÄôs offensive schemes, Minnesota will head into the match as a heavy favorite, but while the Gophers have confidence on the road, sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer said the team wasnâÄôt about to take the hostile atmospheres lightly. âÄúOhio State and Michigan State are both tough places to play so we really have to stay focused,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄúOur goal is to go out and pick up a couple of wins to keep the winning streak going, and weâÄôre focusing on that goal.âÄù Last season, Michigan (16-4, 4-4) took advantage of its home crowd, topping the Gophers in five games after having lost in three to Minnesota earlier in the year. This year, the Wolverines are a different team. Their offense is led by senior middle blocker Beth Karpiak and junior outside hitter Juliana Paz. Paz transferred from Iowa Western and is averaging 3.38 kills per set, while Karpiak has added .303 and a .384 hitting percentage. As a team, Michigan is hitting .271 as sophomore setter Lexi Zimmerman has distributed the ball well. The Wolverines are also holding opponents to a .195 hit percentage, thanks in part to Zimmerman and senior libero Kerry Hance. Hance and Zimmerman combine for 5.6 digs per set, leading the back row. Michigan will be the last team the Gophers face in the first half of their double round-robin schedule, and sophomore outside hitter Brook Dieter said the Gophers are looking forward to getting into the second half, hopefully on a winning streak. âÄúThese last few matches are important, but itâÄôs tough to play teams without really knowing what to expect,âÄù Dieter said. âÄúWeâÄôre really trying to focus on getting past these two, and then we can start the second half, where weâÄôve already seen everyoneâÄôs strengths and weaknesses.âÄù