Tough weekend road trip goes through Ohio and Pennsylvania

The Gophers will play at No. 2 Penn State and No. 17 Ohio State this weekend.

Robert Mews

The last time Minnesota’s volleyball team played Penn State and Ohio State, the Gophers were outhit, outblocked and outserved. They basically were outplayed in every facet of the game in those early season matches.

However, the 19th-ranked Gophers (21-6, 11-5 Big Ten) have a chance at redemption tonight when they face No. 2 Penn State (25-2, 16-0 Big Ten) and No. 17 Ohio State (18-7, 11-5 Big Ten) on Saturday.

Despite Minnesota’s three-game loss earlier this season against the Nittany Lions, Gophers middle blocker Meredith Nelson said Penn State is beatable. Minnesota has managed to beat Penn State on the road the past two seasons.

“They’re not unbeatable at home,” Nelson said. “But, we have a tough challenge ahead of us.”

One of those challenges will be defending Lions’ outside hitter Nicole Fawcett. The freshman has recorded more than 10 kills in her past four matches and is fourth in the Big Ten with 4.43 kills per game.

Yet the Gophers said defending one player is not that simple.

“Penn State has six great players,” senior libero Paula Gentil said. “So you can’t focus on one.”

Those six players, along with the rest of the team, have helped the Lions wrap up the Big Ten title already this season ” their third straight.

If the Gophers give Penn State its first conference loss, Minnesota might be able to secure a home match for the NCAA tournament.

While coach Mike Hebert said the thought of handing the Lions a conference loss would be nice, he said it is not the team’s main motivation for this weekend.

“By far the most important thing for us is to play with the same kind of desire that we played with against Wisconsin on Saturday,” Hebert said.

That desire helped Minnesota overcome a loss in game one against the Badgers to win in four games.

If the Gophers gain any momentum from the Penn State match, it will be tested Saturday when the Gophers face Ohio State.

“This time we’re going to come to play,” Gentil said. “It would be great to go out there and beat those two teams.”