Spikers face Penn State again after breaking Lions home win streak

by Brian Stensaas

September 29, Rec Hall, State College, PA.
The date will be forever etched into the books as one of the brightest matches in Minnesota volleyball history. After a first game loss, the Gophers stormed back to win the next three. In the process, they became the first team to defeat Penn State at home since 1995, an NCAA record span of 87 matches.
Apparently, the Nittany Lions (20-4, 9-3 Big Ten) took it to heart.
In the month since the September loss to the Gophers, Penn State has gone on a tear, winning nine straight matches. In those matches the team dropped just six games and managed to keep a No. 11 ranking in the polls.
The question is simple: Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion, can the Gophers stop a Penn State streak twice in one season?
What’s not so simple is answering the query.
“Penn State has been playing really solid ball ever since we beat them,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “I think that this weekend’s match will unfold in a very similar fashion. Penn State will not back off, and neither will Minnesota.”
While the Lions are riding high enjoying their win streak, Minnesota (21-2, 10-2) is coming off a tough loss at the hands of Wisconsin. Hopes are high for the Gophers, and each of the 5,000-plus fans expected for Saturday night’s match will provide a ruckus atmosphere.
It didn’t take long for Penn State to figure out defending a national championship is no walk in the park. The Lions lost their first match of the season to then-No. 1 UCLA. The lineup Penn State used against the Bruins was dumped following the match. The results started out fine, but quickly descended.
The Lions lost their first three matches of the Big Ten season before switching back to their original lineup they used against UCLA, which has won them nine straight.
They will go with freshman setter Jessica Hayden and use Mishka Levy on the left side instead of using her at middle blocker. The right side will feature Penn State’s other threat in Katie Shumacher.
The Gophers should go with their normal lineup, sporting hitters Nicole Branagh and Charnette Fair swinging kills set by Lindsey Berg. Stephanie Hagen, with her Big Ten leading .414 hitting mark, will also be a factor.
While Penn State’s roster is strong and has produced wins, Minnesota has proven it has some holes. Hebert is well aware of this, but knows his team has its setbacks as well.
“Our match with Penn State will be like a chess game,” he said. “We’re both searching for ways to get by the other, to find the other’s weakness. Both coaches know the other team has those minor weaknesses. It’s all about trying to figure out how to exploit it.”
The Gophers begin the weekend of volleyball Friday night at the Sports Pavilion against Indiana.
The Hoosiers are having a down year in the Big Ten, going 4-8 and having lost three of their last four matches.

Rome Returns
Penn State outside hitter Amanda Rome, a Chaska native who was recruited by Hebert, will be making her return to Minnesota for the third time as a collegiate athlete.
Rome is having a career year setting personal bests in digs and kills this season.
Said Hebert of the 5-foot-10 junior: “She’s small, but what do I know. She’s got a championship ring on her finger.”
Rome was the only true freshman to play for the Lions in 1998 and played in every match last season. She averaged 3.19 digs per game and maintained a .299 hitting percentage.
Staying in?
If you’re not going to be one of the anticipated five grand in attendance Saturday night, tune in to the Gophers via the airwaves.
The match will be aired live on AM 630 WDGY beginning at 6:50 pm.

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]