V-ball sweeps two at home

Tim Klobuchar

The first match had drama, an intriguing subplot and hundreds of fans disguised as the Gophers’ coach. The second match had no suspense, and only the Gophers’ mascot was dressed up.
For entertainment value, Friday’s volleyball match between the Gophers and Illinois at the Sports Pavilion was tough to beat. But from Minnesota’s point of view, Saturday’s match against Iowa, also at the Pavilion, was one of the best of the season.
The Gophers escaped with an emotional five-game win over the Illini, but against the Hawkeyes, they showed they can dominate a Big Ten opponent for three straight games.
Minnesota dispensed Iowa in under an hour and a half to improve to 18-7 overall and 9-3 in the Big Ten. The Gophers remain in a third place tie with Wisconsin and Ohio State, while Iowa fell to 8-15, 3-9.
“I didn’t think it was an easy match,” said Gophers sophomore Tara Baynes. “I just thought we played so well. We played a big percentage better than (Friday) night.”
Serving was one of the many facets of Minnesota’s game that Iowa could not handle. Baynes had an amazing seven aces, nearly half of the team’s 15.
“I have to give credit where credit is due,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said. “Our volunteer assistant coach, Lynne McDonald, has been working with Tara Baynes, serving from a different position on the floor. I’ve never seen a more dramatic turnaround in serving than I’ve seen with Tara Baynes the last few nights.”
As usual, senior outside hitter Katrien DeDecker led the team in kills. But she had much more company on the stat sheet than usual, as her 16 kills were only a few more than three other Gophers players.
“Tonight’s effort was the most balanced all season in terms of spreading the offense around,” Hebert said. “Every hitter delivered.”
Hebert said he was worried about a letdown on Saturday, and considering how draining Friday’s match against Illinois was, no one could blame him.
The Gophers missed several chances in the fourth game to end it, but lost 19-17. However, they rebounded to take the fifth game fairly easily, capitalizing on early Illinois mistakes to win 15-9 and end the marathon match.
Friday was also notable because it was the second time Hebert, in his first year at Minnesota, faced the school he coached for 13 years. Minnesota won at Illinois earlier in the year, and Hebert said beating his old team twice in the same season gives him some closure.
“I don’t suppose I ever dreamed I’d beat Illinois twice in one year,” Hebert said. “It helps put a cap on my career at Illinois.”
Ironically, the same night Illinois came to town also happened to be the night fans were given promotional Hebert Halloween masks. The Illini, who fell to 9-10 overall and 4-7 in the Big Ten, also had to watch hundreds of fans wave around the likeness of their former coach, who led them to 11 straight NCAA appearances.
The crowd, a Pavilion record for volleyball of 3,514, also got a workout near the end of the fourth game. Fans would stand in unison and cheer in anticipation of match point, then sit down whenever Illinois fought it off, then rise again when Minnesota regained the serve. The Illini avoided match point six times, causing the crowd to stand up and sit down more than a Roman Catholic congregation.
The chief culprit for Illinois was Tracey Marshall, who had 19 of her match-high 33 kills in the fourth game. She thundered down spikes on all corners of the court, including one for game point that forced a fifth game.
Marshall, however, had no kills in the decisive fifth game, as the Gophers benefitted from better blocking and some ragged play from the Illini. DeDecker had five kills in the game, including match point.
In the media room after the match, senior Tera Fiamengo reached for a nearby counter and gently tapped it, invoking the knock-on-wood superstition. The Gophers haven’t lost a close match all year. But luck really had nothing to do with Minnesota’s success in tight matches this year.
Earlier in the week, Hebert, without sounding cocky, said he never expects to lose. The players share the same confidence.
“Seriously,” Fiamengo said of the possibility of dropping a close match, “we don’t think about it.”

FRIDAY’S SUMMARY
Illinois 15 8 4 19 9 — 2
Gophers 13 15 15 17 15 — 3

Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 28, Fiamengo 16, Passer 14, Pearman 13, Baynes 10. Digs: Pearman 22, Passer 18, Bauer 13, DeDecker 11. Assists: Bauer 70.
T — 2:32. A — 3,514.
SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
Iowa 6 9 4 — 0
Gophers 15 15 15 — 3

Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 16, Pearman 12, Baynes 11, Passer 11. Digs: Passer 9, Baynes 8. Assists: Bauer 48.
T — 1:19. A — 1,825.