Gophers lose to Panthers

Wednesday night’s mission for the Minnesota volleyball team was simple: protect the southern Minnesota state border against Northern Iowa.
The Gophers accepted that mission, and fought in a real war down in Rochester, Minn., before losing 3-2, in what was dubbed by both schools as the “Border Battle.”
Minnesota (6-3) came out on the short end of a grueling five-game showdown, losing for the first time in five matches, 15-17, 15-11, 15-9, 12-15, 15-11.
“Northern Iowa was a better team tonight,” coach Mike Hebert said. “They made fewer mistakes, and they blocked really well.”
Hebert was referring to the key stat of the match, in which Northern Iowa out-blocked the Gophers 25-8. The 25 blocks fell one short of Minnesota’s record for blocks allowed in one match.
Both teams came into Wednesday night’s game with respectable credentials. Minnesota was on a four-match roll and Northern Iowa was just shy of entering the top 25 in the coaches’ poll.
The Panthers won by playing cleaner than Minnesota — they made only 28 hitting errors while the Gophers made 46.
Junior Nicole Branagh once again led the Gophers with a season high 27 kills, with help coming from sophomore Yvonne Wichert, who had a season high 21 kills. Lindsey Berg was her usual self, adding 66 assists.
Northern Iowa was led by Kim McCaffrey’s 27 kills and Shannon Perry tossed in 58 assists. Holly VanHofwegen anchored the Panthers middle with 12 blocks.
It was the first time these two teams met since 1991, when Northern Iowa defeated the Gophers in four games. After Wednesday night, Minnesota still leads the all-time series 10-3.
The Gophers will be happy to return to Minneapolis on Thursday.
After playing 10 of their first 11 matches away from the Sports Pavilion, Minnesota will return to campus for this weekend’s Diet Coke Classic, with games against Montana, Denver and Navy. Six of the next seven Gophers games will be at home.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]