Minnesota appreciative for a one game weekend

With the midweek match against Iowa out of the way, the Minnesota volleyball team can now turn its focus to Michigan State. The Gophers (16-3 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) will look for their seventh conference win after taking an extra day to prepare Thursday, as they host the Spartans (11-6, 3-3) Friday at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion. âÄúWe had some time to prepare for Iowa, we played them, and now we have another day to prepare for Michigan State,âÄù coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúI like the way this unfolds, instead of playing back-to-back matches. Those weeks are tougher to prepare for.âÄù One of the people Minnesota will have to prepare for is junior middle blocker Vanessa King. King has been one of the go-to players for the Spartans this season, and has thrived in that role, averaging three kills per set while hitting .363. Sophomore outside hitter Jenilee Rathje and freshman outside hitter Becca Zlabis are the only two players to take more shots than King this season, as Rathje averages 3.93 and Zlabis adds 2.39 kills per set. These three will likely be the players Minnesota will key on during the match. âÄúI think our team does better facing teams with go-to players,âÄù senior setter Rachel Hartmann said. âÄúUsually there are two or even three players to focus on, and one of them is going to have a good day no matter what. As long as we shut down the other two, weâÄôre usually OK.âÄù This has proven true so far this season, as the Gophers swept No. 5 California, a team that features junior outside hitter Hana Cutura, swept No. 21 Purdue and senior middle blocker Stephanie Lynch, but lost to well-balanced teams like Hawaii and Penn State. Along with making preparations for the match against the Spartans, the Gophers also spent some time continuing to work towards making improvements as a team; something senior middle blocker Kelly Schmidt said has been a goal all season long. âÄúWeâÄôre a really competitive team, so we come into practice wanting to get better every day,âÄù Schmidt said. âÄúWe had another meeting just the other day to discuss goals, and I think that excited us a little bit. At this point in the season its easy to kind of fall back, get a little tired, and have a little less energy in the gym, but I havenâÄôt seen that from our group yet.âÄù Schmidt especially has shown marked improvement this season, collecting seven kills against Indiana Friday and having a career night against Iowa with 13 kills and an .812 hitting percentage. But even with the improved offensive output, the team captain said the GophersâÄô biggest strength is still their defense. âÄúObviously our biggest strength is our defense,âÄù Schmidt said. âÄúItâÄôs incredible as a middle blocker to know that even if the ball gets past you, someoneâÄôs going to dig it up.âÄù