Volleyball team two wins away from share of Big Ten title

Brian Stensaas

After weeks of anticipation and wondering, the finish line is within sight for the Minnesota volleyball team.
Just two matches remain from a gruelling 20-match Big Ten season. For the eighth-ranked Gophers (27-2, 16-2 Big Ten), the pair of opponents are sheer enemies at the moment.
There is nothing else on the minds of the players. And it doesn’t take an upper-level graduate student to figure it all out. The formula is simple:
Win Wednesday afternoon and Saturday night, take home the hardware.
And while the players job on the court will be a challenge, Minnesota coach Mike Hebert faces a tough job of his own.
“I have to make sure not to allow the team to get over-revved or over-anxious,” Hebert said. “We have to pay attention to what is going on on our side of the floor. We do that and we’ll be fine.”
Practice this week at the Sports Pavilion will be tapered so players with minor and stress related injuries maintain their health. Practice times have been condensed from the normal three hours to just an hour and a half in order stay focused on the quality of drills.
Minnesota has already proven it can defeat both opponents left on the Big Ten slate: Iowa and Ohio State. But both teams have changed since the first meetings.
The Hawkeyes have had trouble recognizing themselves all season long. One match, they are rallying back to defeat No. 20 Michigan State in five games. The next match they’re getting tattooed 3-0 by No. 7 Wisconsin. Iowa currently stands at 13-13 overall (9-9 Big Ten). The Hawkeyes will be playing this week to get over .500 and earn a possible bid in the NCAA tournament.
“We need to anticipate they will bring their top game against us,” Hebert said. “They’re going to be fighting for their playoff rights and we need to be prepared for that.”
Meanwhile, Ohio State is a completely different team from when the Gophers last saw them.
Starting setter Katie Virtue has not practiced in almost a month for Ohio State, a span of six matches in which the Buckeyes dropped three straight and dwindled from the Big Ten standings.
“Having your starting setter out is like playing with a brand-new quarterback,” Hebert said. “But who knows, (Virtue) could be back this weekend. We’re preparing like we did for them in October when they were at full strength.”
The Gophers expect a full, healthy lineup for both matches.
Wednesday’s tilt with Iowa is at 1 p.m. and Saturday’s match with the Buckeyes is at 6 p.m. The match with Ohio State will be televised on MSC Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]