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Career assists milestone nearing reality for Berg

Growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, Minnesota setter Lindsey Berg started learning how to react on the volleyball court at an early age.

Now on the verge of becoming the fourth Gopher – and 12th Big Ten player – in history to reach 5,000 assists for her career, Berg attributes her success to the instincts and court awareness she has developed over many years.

“I have been around volleyball my entire life,” Berg said. “There are things that I see that a lot of players that started in high school don’t see. I have a feel of the court that I don’t think you can teach.”

Berg is on pace to finish third all-time in assists at Minnesota, which would also place her third in Big Ten history. Former Gopher Sharon Oesterling owns the school and conference career mark with 6,024.

Berg has benefited from playing as a freshman and being surrounded by quality athletes.

“I have been blessed with great hitters,” Berg said. “Whether it was (Big Ten career kills leader) Nicole Branagh, who I got to set for three years, and now Steph (Hagen), obviously the hitters have allowed me to reach that mark. Half the time they probably saved my sets and given me the assists.”

Having played with Berg’s father at the University of California-Santa Barbara, coach Mike Hebert knew one day her background would help her develop into the player she is today.

“She is the volleyball equivalent of a playground basketball player who grows up in New York City,” Hebert said. “She grew up in Honolulu, and her father taught his kids to play volleyball when they were literally three to four years old.

“She has volleyball instincts that surpass most players here in the Midwest.”

Gophers lead in hitting

Minnesota has hit the ball well this season as it ranks first in the Big Ten with a .322 overall hitting percentage.

With the new rally scoring system, and the importance of reduced errors, efficiency in hitting is at a premium.

“Offense will probably not be our problem,” Hebert said. “Our setting is tremendous. We are serving well, and we are passing better than I thought we would.”

The Gophers have three players hitting over .400 for the season, and after the first week of conference play boast the top three hitters in the conference: Hagen, sophomore Bethany Brafford and senior Kathy Tilson.

Hagen, Minnesota’s career record holder, leads the team with a .431 hitting percentage. She hit .606 during the first week of Big Ten play.

“That is really what you want to see,” Hebert said. “Even though we are inexperienced as a lineup with four new starters we are hitting at a high efficiency because nobody can double-team us. They have to honor at least four hitters.”

Service aces on the rise

The Gophers are serving aces at a rate of 2.94 per game, 1.30 aces per game higher than last season.

Minnesota has 100 service aces in the first 10 matches while committing just 94 errors for a plus-six ratio. At the end of last season the ratio was minus-109.

The average of 2.94 ranks second in the Big Ten.

Berg, who finished second in the nation last season, leads the team with a .90 aces per game average.

Hagen has 24 aces against 12 errors. Last season Hagen had only 21 aces for the entire season.

“In the preseason I worked a lot on serving,” Hagen said. “(Assistant coach Brian Heffernan) kind of changed my serve and that has helped me a lot and I think he helped a lot of other people, too. We are a lot more confident serving now.”

Defense concerns Hebert

While his offense is performing better than last season, Hebert is concerned about his defense which has dropped.

“Our team simply hasn’t made a full commitment to defense yet,” Hebert said.

Last year the Gophers opponents had an overall .166 hitting percentage while Big Ten foes hit .189.

This season, those numbers have risen to .197 overall, and .267 in the Big Ten.

Last season the team averaged 17.14 digs per game this season, this season Minnesota is averaging only 12.50.

“We are not blocking and defending well yet,” Hebert said. “That is what we will spend all of our time doing until we get that part of the game up to a higher standard.

“If we do that, if we can begin to block and defend at a higher level, then we will be one of the teams favored to win the conference.”


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

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