Sweep of Indiana gives spikers first Big Ten title

Ben Goessling

After Minnesota’s volleyball team swept Indiana to win its first Big Ten championship Friday night, outside hitter Erin Martin gave coach Mike Hebert – and half of the scorer’s table – perhaps the worst celebratory dunking in history.

Martin, who was carrying the team’s water jug by herself, slipped before she could douse Hebert, merely wetting the coach’s shirt while soaking computers on the scorer’s table.

On Saturday night, Ohio State’s Stacey Gordon brought enough cold water for every member of the sixth-ranked Gophers.

The sophomore outside hitter riddled Minnesota (29-4, 16-2 Big Ten) for 24 kills as the 25th-ranked Buckeyes handed the Gophers their first three-game loss of the season before 3,341 fans at the Sports Pavilion.

“There are those who would say this was a predictable letdown,” Hebert said Saturday. “It’s human nature that we used up a lot of emotion (Friday) night.”

Minnesota looked jittery on Friday night, but simply overwhelmed the Hoosiers with its defense. The Gophers posted 12 blocks and 63 digs.

Hebert was already substituting freely by the end of the second game, as every player on the roster made an appearance. Freshman Sigourney Schaffer posted her first two collegiate kills to close out the game.

And when Minnesota’s Trisha Bratford and Jessica Byrnes blocked the Hoosiers’ Monique Pritz to close out game three, the 2,812 fans at the Pavilion were suddenly covered in confetti.

The Gophers posed for pictures on the court with the Big Ten championship trophy and walked a victory lap around the arena. Hebert and senior Lisa Axel made brief statements to the crowd.

All of it created a perfect setting for Gordon to ruin on Saturday.

“We saw on Friday they clinched, and we certainly expected to catch them off guard,” she said.

And the Buckeyes (17-10, 11-7) did just that, slithering into a jovial arena and quickly proceeding to ruin Minnesota’s parade with a 30-23 victory in game one.

Gordon accounted for 11 of the Buckeyes’ 21 kills in the second game, as Ohio State held on for a 30-28 win after blowing a seven-point lead.

Minnesota returned after the intermission to a crowd fully expecting it to display one of its stirring rallies, but it was clear by the middle of game three the team had used up its magic for the weekend.

“We didn’t have the conference championship to play for anymore,” Hebert said. “But championship teams have a responsibility to come out and play every night. We learned a valuable lesson tonight.”

Minnesota hosts Iowa on Wednesday and visits No. 17 Penn State on Friday to close out the regular season. The Gophers will learn their NCAA tournament destination next Sunday.

The team held a ceremony for Axel after Saturday night’s match, ending Minnesota’s weekend on a bittersweet note.

“It’s pretty much been an emotional roller coaster this weekend,” Axel said. “It’s disappointing anytime you don’t play well, but I think the title will be what sticks with me from this weekend.”

Ben Goessling covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]