Gophers look to overcome Nebraska, humble Iowa

Minnesota defeated Iowa twice and lost to Nebraska twice last season.

Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team will travel this weekend to play Iowa and Nebraska in the Big Ten.

No. 10 Minnesota will face the unranked Hawkeyes on Friday and the No. 3 Cornhuskers on Sunday.

Last season, the Gophers swept Iowa at home and won in four sets in Iowa City, Iowa.

This year, the Hawkeyes are 10-9 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten. They ended a five-game losing streak last weekend, winning against Indiana and upsetting then-No. 12 Purdue on the road.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise that teams that are unranked can beat teams that are ranked,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “It’s indicative, I think, of the strength of the Big Ten.”

Hawkeyes sophomore outside hitter Alex Lovell won the Big Ten Player of the Week award Monday after tallying a personal-record and match-high 24 kills against Purdue.

“We have to know that we can’t just overlook them,” Gophers junior middle blocker Tori Dixon said. “We have to be good all the time and not just against bigger teams.”

Dixon said it would be in the back of the team’s mind that Iowa could take over the match at any
moment.

Even though Iowa may be unpredictable, freshman outside hitter Daly Santana said it won’t change how the Gophers play.

“Hugh has taught us to play against every team the same way,” Santana said. “It doesn’t matter what team it is.”

The Gophers have a different history with Nebraska. The team only joined the Big Ten conference last year, but the Cornhuskers beat Minnesota in five sets in Minneapolis and four in Lincoln, Neb.

Nebraska is the second-highest ranked team the Gophers have faced this season after No. 1 Penn State. But McCutcheon said “stranger things have happened” than his team winning on the red court.

Dixon said Nebraska’s home crowd will be intense.

“If you’re not used to playing there, it’s going to be kind of a little shock at first,” Dixon said.

She said everyone is still new to the atmosphere since the team only played there once last year.

Nebraska’s senior setter Lauren Cook earned the Big Ten Setter of the Week honor for the second time this season Monday. She has also won the Player of the Week award in 2012.

Santana, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors this week, said the Gophers are aware that Cook will be a threat and try and change up plays to confuse her opponents.

“We’ve been talking about her these past practices,” Santana said. “She’s very smart, and she’s going to try and dump the ball all the time.”

Dixon said the blockers will watch Cook more closely and try not to be distracted by the ball.

“We’re trained as blockers to look at the setter and decide where she’s setting and kind of focus on that,” Dixon said. “Not a lot of setters are super active like her, and she tries to be pretty flashy. … She’s tricky.”

The Gophers have had experience against an aggressive setter before in Penn State’s Micha Hancock. Minnesota had trouble adjusting to her quick tips over the net in the 3-0 loss Sept. 29, but McCutcheon said his team has learned.

The match against Nebraska will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.