Containment of Ohio State’s Gordon helps Minnesota stay in Big Ten title contention

Though Stacey Gordon got on track in the fourth game Saturday, it was too late.

Kent Erdahl

To salvage a weekend and keep its conference title hopes alive, Minnesota’s volleyball team had a simple objective on Saturday – contain Ohio State’s Stacey Gordon.

Easier said than done, but done nonetheless.

Gophers coaches knew the team wouldn’t be able to stop her completely, but containing Gordon – who has been

considered the frontrunner for NCAA player of the year – was something the Gophers said they had to do in order to win.

Minnesota managed to do just that Saturday, squeaking out a four-game victory thanks to a collaborative defensive effort that frustrated the senior outside hitter just long enough to take advantage.

The Gophers spent a large portion of the week’s practices getting ready for Gordon’s 60 mph-plus attacks and devising schemes to frustrate the star, who tallied 36 kills the first time she faced them.

Part of Minnesota’s success came at the net. Outside hitters Erin Martin and Trisha Bratford combined for eight solo blocks, including five by Martin – a career high.

“Today in our team meeting, (assistant coach Dave Boos) said they were going to unleash our left sides,” Martin said. “He just told us to go out there (Saturday) and block everything that we could. I think that worked pretty well.”

The defensive performance by Martin and Bratford allowed Minnesota to focus its two-person blocks on Gordon.

Middle blocker Meredith Nelson spearheaded that effort by tallying five of those blocks.

The game plan worked wonders through the first two games. Gordon recorded just 13 kills in 44 attempts, and Minnesota had a 2-0 lead.

But after a loss to a more-balanced Buckeyes attack in game three, Gordon single-handedly kept her team in the match in game four as the Gophers’ back row defense stepped up.

At a crucial point in game four, libero Paula Gentil kept a Gordon attack alive, and the rest of the Gophers’ defense helped send the ball back over the net. Ohio State seemed so startled to receive the floating return that it dropped between defenders and gave Minnesota a 25-22 lead.

“A play like that can just change the momentum,” said Gentil, who recorded 28 digs on the night. “It’s great to get plays like that to get momentum back when we don’t have it or just to inject it even more.”

Although Gordon elevated her game by recording 10 kills in 20 attempts in the final game, it was Minnesota’s defensive effort that frustrated the rest of her team and helped the Gophers pull out the win.

Minnesota coach Mike Hebert was thrilled with his team’s defensive effort, despite Gordon’s numbers at the end.

“She, being the great player that she is, figured out what we were doing and, by game four, was virtually unstoppable again,” Hebert said. “But, on the whole, our defensive effort tonight was the reason why we won the match.”