Spikers earn important win before sweep at Wisconsin

by Brian Hall

MADISON, Wisc. – Minnesota’s volleyball team got the win expected to earn them an NCAA tournament bid on Friday at Northwestern but was unable to keep its five-match winning streak alive as the Gophers (18-10, 10-8 Big Ten) were swept by Wisconsin on Sunday.

Minnesota lost to the Badgers in Madison (30-28, 30-27, 30-18) after defeating the Wildcats in four games (30-28, 27-30, 30-24, 30-27).

“We were very relieved to get that win on Friday,” coach Mike Hebert said. “(Northwestern) played their worst match of the season when we played them at home. I was happy with how well we played today. We were determined. Some things just didn’t happen for us at the end”

No. 6 Wisconsin (23-3, 17-1) earned at least a share of the Big Ten title with the win over the Gophers. The Badgers host Northwestern (9-16, 5-13) on Wednesday with the opportunity to win the title outright.

“We just won a Big Ten title but we aren’t celebrating,” Wisconsin coach Pete Waite said. “We want sole possession and to be called Big Ten champions.”

The Badgers won game one behind the play of their All-American middle blocker Livingston. She totaled nine kills on 17 swings in the first game alone.

“Unless we see her again in the tournament, that is the last time we will have to block against her,” Hebert said of the senior Livingston. “She is a whale of a player. Not too many teams have players like her and she is one reason why Wisconsin is able to stay so consistent.”

In game two Minnesota was primed for an upset as it led by as much as three before the Badgers earned their first lead of the game at 20-19. The game was knotted at 27 before Wisconsin pulled away.

Minnesota out-hit the Badgers .250 to .176 in the game, but Wisconsin held a 20-14 edge in kills while the Gophers had three service errors to the Badgers’ zero.

“They have a sheer belief that they will win in this building,” Hebert said. “Their confidence was evident, and we couldn’t put the ball away at the right time. It was a great effort by us, but it shows why they are the Big Ten champions.”

What was a competitive match for Minnesota turned ugly in the third game. Wisconsin jumped out to a 10-3 lead and never looked back, winning by 12 points and out-hitting Minnesota .326 to .050 in the final game.

Outside hitter Trisha Bratford led the team with 11 kills but the Gophers managed only a .174 hitting percentage for the match. Bratford had made her first start against a conference opponent on Friday but did not play well. Hebert said she suffered from an obvious case of nerves.

“I have no clue what happened,” Bratford said. “I couldn’t do anything, I was trying too hard. I knew we had to win that match. But, today I was ready to play. I wasn’t nervous and I am feeling real good. My confidence is up and I think that is one thing that bothered me early in the year.”

Against the Wildcats Kathy Tilson had a double double with 13 kills and 11 digs, as she equaled Hagen’s 13 kills to pace four Gophers with double-figure kills. Berg had 42 assists in the match.

Minnesota hosts Ohio State (24-2, 16-2) and Penn State (18-6, 11-5) this weekend to wrap up the regular season.