Minnesota makes an early exit to end a disappointing season

Sacramento State sent the Gophers packing in four games, capping off one of the worst seasons in years.

by Mark Heise

There will be no Sweet 16 for the Minnesota volleyball team this year.

The Gophers fell out of the tournament after getting bumped in the first round by Sacramento State on Friday, 30-23, 25-30, 24-30, 17-30. It was the first time in school history that Minnesota lost its first-round match, sending the team to a 12-1 record.

Sacramento State played strong defense throughout the match, and played a very quick style of volleyball to keep the Gophers off balance, resulting in Minnesota having a hard time finding its rhythm throughout the match.

“As predicted, the match was a clash of styles,” coach Mike Hebert said. “They frustrated us at every turn; they were maybe the best defensive team we’ve played all season.”

The Gophers fought through the tough defense in the first game, collecting 17 kills while hitting .268 and playing some strong defense on their end as well.

Freshman outside hitter Brook Dieter led the way with eight kills in the first game, as Minnesota looked strong in a 30-25 win.

Then things fell apart.

“Early in game two, the lack-of-confidence bug bit us again,” Hebert said. “All of a sudden we went from being a team that was overpowering Sacramento State to a team who had lost the confidence necessary to hit the ball hard, and that was all she wrote.”

Minnesota left its power-hitting style and began to play the Hornets’ style of tipping, leading to an advantage for Sacramento State.

“In order for us to win, we had to keep the power-hitting game and not resort to their tipping game, and I think we did that in the first game,” Dieter said. “But then, slowly but surely, we started to get into their game, and that gave them the upper hand.”

The Gophers lost games two and three 24-30 and 23-30, respectively, despite keeping the match close through strong defensive efforts, holding the Hornets to a .209 hit percentage, allowing for some long points.

And playing a long rally only to lose the point became fairly draining, junior setter Rachel Hartmann said.

“It really drags you down,” she said. “You work so hard during that long rally, and then to not get that point really starts to get frustrating.”

The final game showed some of that frustration, as the points came much quicker, and the scoring was much more one-sided. The Hornets cruised through the fourth game, taking advantage of the Gophers’ -.042 hitting percentage to take the match 17-30.

And with the loss came the final match for senior outside hitter Jessy Jones, and senior defensive specialist Kelly Roysland. Jones finished the game with nine kills and five blocks, while Roysland contributed eight digs.

Dieter said the two leaders would, of course, be missed.

“Jessy has that competitive nature where she wants to win and she’s going to push everyone to perform as well as we can,” Dieter said. “Roysland was another great contributor. She was so composed, and she knew what her job was on the court. Both players will be hard to lose.”

But overall, Minnesota will have nearly its entire team intact heading into next season, with a big group of new seniors to lead the way.

And as one of the biggest problems this season might have been a lack of experience leading to a lack of confidence, next year could see that problem disappear.

“Time will tell,” Hebert said. “This year reminds me a lot of the 2005 season, when we lost in the second round. The juniors from that year turned it around to lead the team in 2006. Hopefully history will repeat itself.”