Border battle weekend ahead for Gophers

Minnesota will host both Iowa and Wisconsin to open Big Ten play.

Border battle weekend ahead for Gophers

Aleutian Calabay

ThereâÄôs only one thing better than opening the Big Ten season at home, and thatâÄôs opening it at home against a pair of border rivals. No. 9 Minnesota squares off against Wisconsin on Friday at 7 p.m. and then takes on Iowa on Saturday at 7 p.m. Both games will be at the Sports Pavilion. The two matchups figure to be winnable for the Gophers (9-3 overall, 0-0 Big Ten), as both the Badgers (5-4, 0-0) and Hawkeyes (8-4, 0-0) are underachieving thus far. Minnesota, however, is not taking anything for granted. âÄúBoth teams seem to be down, at least on paper,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúBut IâÄôve been around the conference for 25 years and IâÄôve seen it every year where teams that are supposed to be a little down, but then the conference season starts and they catch fire. No matter what their records are I know they will both be battles.âÄù The Gophers are coming off an up and down performance last weekend in the Pioneer Classic Tournament. Minnesota started out with a tough five set loss to No. 12 Oregon, but bounced right back with a 3-1 win over Georgia Tech and a straight-set victory against Denver. The beginning of conference play is essentially a second start to the season. Teams go from playing unfamiliar schools that they spend just a week preparing for, to playing in rivalries and matchups that have rich histories. âÄúThere definitely is pressure in starting the Big Ten season,âÄù junior Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúWe all want to win, our fans expect us to win. But I think itâÄôs pressure that we need to embrace.âÄù The fresh start of conference play is something that will most certainly be welcomed by both Wisconsin and Iowa. The Badgers carry the worst record in the Big Ten heading into conference play. In its first seven games, Wisconsin failed to record consecutive wins âÄî a poor formula for building momentum. However, the Badgers may have started turning their season around in their last two non-conference games, beating both New Mexico State and Wisconsin-Green Bay in straight sets. Wisconsin is coached by Pete Waite . Coming into his eleventh season at the helm, Waite boasts a .735 winning percentage, which is 14th among active Division I coaches. The Badgers are led on the court by senior outside hitter Brittney Dolger ; her 3.57 kills per set average is tops on the team and ninth overall in the Big Ten . Wisconsin has an up and coming talent in freshman outside hitter Kirby Toon , who is second on the team with a 2.42 kills per set average. The Gophers lead the all-time series against Wisconsin 38-25 and swept both meetings last season. Iowa has ironically had a much better record on the road this season than at home . The Hawkeyes swept all three matches in each of their first two tournaments âÄî which were both both on the road âÄî to start the season a perfect 6-0. Then Iowa came home and lost all three matches in the Hawkeye Challenge. But the Hawkeyes went back to their winning ways on the road by taking two of three games in the West Point Challenge. Though still unable to distinguish themselves offensively, Iowa continues to play steady defense. Leading the way for the HawkeyesâÄô defensive effort is senior libero Christina Meister , whose 4.81 digs per set are tops in the Big Ten . Minnesota is currently on a 27-game winning streak over Iowa, dating back to 1995. It has also been 19 years since the Hawkeyes have won in Minnesota.