Spikers still have shot at Big Ten title

Brian Stensaas

If the old phrase “history repeats itself” has any truth to it, things are looking bright for the final stretch of the Big Ten volleyball season for Minnesota.
With three weeks remaining in the conference season, the Gophers have six matches remaining against teams they already defeated this season. Those six teams have a combined record of 36-48, including Ohio State with a Big Ten record of 11-3. The Gophers travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Buckeyes in the last match of the season Nov. 18.
But Minnesota cannot afford to look ahead just yet.
On the board this weekend are two teams with losing records, but are teams who surely can’t be overlooked. Up first for the Gophers is Illinois on Friday night. The Illini are always a test for Minnesota in Champaign because current Minnesota coach Mike Hebert was at the helm of the Illini for 13 years previous.
While leading Illinois volleyball, Hebert guided the team to the NCAA 11 times including two final-four appearances.
Saturday night Minnesota heads to Purdue to take on a Boilermakers squad which has lost three straight, two by 3-0 shutouts.
Still, Hebert thinks both teams have the ability to steal one away this weekend.
“Illinois and Purdue are two teams that know all they can do to gain glory the rest of this season is to be the spoiler,” he said. “If they put it all together, they can blow us off the map.”
The Gophers opened Big Ten play this season at home against the pair. Minnesota won both matches 3-0, allowing more than 10 points in just one game the entire weekend.
“These matches coming up are just as important even though we’ve beaten them already,” outside hitter Nicole Branagh said. “If we want to be up there contending for the championship, we can’t afford to lose.”
As far as the conference championship is concerned, just who will emerge the victor is about as clear as who our nation’s next president will be.
Wisconsin holds a one match lead over Minnesota. However, the Badgers play Penn State in State College Saturday night. Remember, until the Gophers knocked off the Nittany Lions in September, no team won at Rec Hall in 87 previous attempts.
Should Wisconsin emerge victorious, it will have won at Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State. And Hebert would be in awe.
“I’d personally deliver the Big Ten plaque to a top four team that defeats the other three in the opponent’s venue. That’s an outstanding feat,” Hebert joked. “I’m not going to back that up with a personal delivery or anything, but that’s how I feel about it.”

Gophers ink four to begin play in 2001
Four prep volleyball standouts signed national letters of intent on Thursday to play at Minnesota next season.
Of the four, three are from Minnesota and one hails from Iowa.
Leading the core is Minnesota’s Ms. Volleyball 2000 Maggie Freiborg. The 6-foot-1 middle blocker from Prinsburg, Minn. brings the size needed to compete at the position in the Big Ten. Hebert considers her to be “the real deal.”
Anoka outside hitter Amanda Cipperly led the Tornadoes to the State Tournament this season and is a four-time North Suburban all-conference selection expected to bring ball control and power to the team.
Prinsburg setter Lindsey Vander Wall and Ames, Iowa’s Erin Martin are the other two signees. Vander Wall, a teammate of Freiborg, is a three-time all-conference selection. Martin is a 6-foot outside hitter whose athleticism and enthusiasm intrigued Hebert.

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