Minnesota stays undefeated in conference play

The Minnesota volleyball teamâÄôs slogan for the first part of the conference season, âÄúStay alive the first five,âÄù seems to be working. Defense continued to be a key as the Gophers (14-2 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) picked up two more wins this weekend, holding opponents to a combined .116 hit percentage to top No. 19 Illinois in five sets Friday and sweep No. 18 Purdue Saturday. âÄúWe try to take segments of the season and break it down into manageable goals,âÄù coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúOur goal for the first part here is to âÄòkeep the dream alive by winning all five.âÄô âÄú âÄúThe dreamâÄù refers to an opportunity for Minnesota to go into the match against Penn State next Saturday undefeated in conference play. The Nittany Lions and the Gophers are the only two Big Ten teams remaining without conference losses this season. Indiana is the only remaining team standing in the way, but with the way the Gophers defense played this weekend, HebertâÄôs âÄúdreamâÄù may soon be a reality. MinnesotaâÄôs back row was especially active in the five-set win over Illinois, continuing its hot play of late. The Illini (11-4, 2-2) hit just .153 despite making just 28 hitting errors throughout the match. The Gophers forced a low hitting percentage, digging 104 of IllinoisâÄô attempts. Junior libero Christine Tan led the way with 36 digs, while sophomore outside hitter Brook Dieter added 24 and sophomore defensive specialist Hailey Cowles collected 21. Offensively, Dieter led the way with 18 kills and senior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig added 15. Minnesota hit just .184 as a team, but out-dug, out-blocked and out-served Illinois to win a close match: 25-23, 20-25, 25-22, 21-25, 15-8. Sophomore outside hitter Laura DeBruler led Illinois with 24 kills, taking 80 swings. DeBruler and junior outside hitter Kylie McCulley combined for 65 percent of the IlliniâÄôs swings in the match. âÄúWe knew DeBruler was going to be one of their go-to hitters, so our game plan was to keep her out of the match,âÄù senior setter Rachel Hartmann said. âÄúI think we did a pretty decent job of stopping her, considering how talented she is.âÄù Purdue (13-3, 2-2) presented a challenge for the Gophers in the form of two strong middle blockers, but Minnesota shut down every player except one on the BoilermakerâÄôs offense. Senior middle blocker Stephanie Lynch collected 13 kills and a .333 hit percentage for Purdue, but the rest of the team hit a feeble -.049 against a strong GophersâÄô block, leading to the loss: 25-14, 25-16, 25-19. âÄúWe had a few factors in the match we were going to key on,âÄù Tan said. âÄúWe shut down two out of three factors and slowed down Lynch so, overall, we were successful. Our blocking was great. It didnâÄôt give PurdueâÄôs offense any chances.âÄù Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer led Minnesota in blocks with two solo blocks and four assists, and the team continued to out-block each opponent it had faced, topping Purdue 10-5. The Boilermakers made 26 errors in three sets, making things easy on Minnesota. Dieter again led the Gophers offense with 12 kills, and Gibbemeyer added 10. Senior middle blocker Kelly Schmidt collected five kills and hit .500, rounding out the majority of MinnesotaâÄôs 34 kills. âÄúWe had some spurts where we played as well as we have all season,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWe never let them get off the floor, and we forced a lot of those errors.âÄù