Michigan road trip offers Gophers chance to wow selection judges

The No. 12 Gophers play at No. 14 Michigan on Friday and Michigan State Saturday.

by Aleutian Calabay

As the NCAA Tournament fast approaches, the No. 12 Minnesota volleyball team faces one of their toughest trips of the season. The Gophers travel to No. 14 Michigan on Friday for a 6 p.m. match and Michigan State for a 7:00 p.m. Saturday contest. The games wrap up a four-game road trip for Minnesota and are the teamâÄôs last road games of the regular season. The Gophers move into the weekend riding a solid wave of momentum, as they have won their last four matches, all in straight sets. The only drawback from the wins is that they have come against four of the Big TenâÄôs worst squads. Knowing that they still have a rough road ahead, the Gophers take nothing for granted as they prepare for the Wolverines and Spartans. âÄúWe are going to have to play better than we have been playing to get wins at either one of those places,âÄù Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúDonâÄôt get me wrong, I was happy with our performances over the last couple of weeks, but these two teams are at a higher level than what weâÄôve been playing. I think both matches are going to be close and both are going to be very difficult.âÄù The Gophers have already had success against both Michigan and Michigan State this season when they faced the two teams in late October. Minnesota beat the Spartans in a five-set thriller , and followed that up with a solid 3-1 win over then-No. 11 Michigan. But both of those matches were at home and going anywhere on the road in the Big Ten makes for a tough matchup. Michigan, in particular, has been a difficult place for the Gophers to play in recent years. Despite continually being one of the top teams in the Big Ten, the Gophers have been unable to win in Ann Arbor for the last three seasons . âÄú[Playing Michigan] gives us a little extra excitement just knowing we can beat them there,âÄù sophomore middle blocker Ariana Filho said. âÄúIt just takes us taking care of our side. It gets all of us motivated to work hard in practice and makes sure we can work hard and pull off the win this year.âÄù While remaining focused on the task at hand, the Gophers are also beginning to look ahead toward the NCAA Tournament with only four games remaining in the regular season. The GophersâÄô winning streak and an Illinois loss to Penn State last weekend pulls Minnesota to within one game of the Illini for second place in the Big Ten. Wins this weekend by the Gophers would both keep them in contention with Illinois and continue to improve their chances at a high seed in the tournament. âÄúOur players understand the gravity of the situation,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWe want to get as good of a seed as possible in the tournament and we would love to rundown Illinois for second place.âÄù