Hawai’i not just sun and sand for Minn.

After returning from a successful weekend on the road, the Minnesota volleyball team had little time to prepare before taking off for the next tournament âÄî in Hawaii. And while the weather and view may be more appealing than an evening at Perkins in Omaha, Neb., it wonâÄôt be something the Gophers will have time to enjoy. Coach Mike Hebert and the team have nicknamed this trip âÄúthe sacrifice in paradise,âÄù making clear from the start that Minnesota will be there with all focus on winning games in a hostile atmosphere. âÄúWeâÄôre playing against the top-drawing program in the nation, and thatâÄôs an opportunity you donâÄôt want to pass up,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúIt gets us ready to play in the Big Ten, where there are a lot of crowds and a lot of hostile people, so thatâÄôs one of the reasons weâÄôre doing it.âÄù The 12th-ranked Gophers will see crowds upwards of 8,000 as they face off against No. 11 Hawaii at midnight C.D.T. tonight, before taking on Cincinnati at 5 p.m. and Wyoming at 7 p.m. in back-to-back matches Saturday. Hawaii started the season 1-2 at home last week, with the losses coming against No. 1 Penn State in three games and No. 6 UCLA in a very close four-game match. Junior outside hitter Anelis Cubi-Otineru was the teamâÄôs most consistent player last weekend, collecting three kills per game while hitting .373. Senior middle blocker Nickie Thomas only played in two matches, but had gaudy numbers while in, collecting three kills per game at a .577 clip. But Minnesota senior middle blocker and captain Kelly Schmidt said confidence is high for the Gophers. âÄúOur strengths are that, right now, weâÄôre definitely mentally focused, and thatâÄôs huge going into a season,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs really easy to slip and lose focus, but I really didnâÄôt see us stray away from what we were trying to get accomplished last week.âÄù This was one of the trouble areas last season, during which Minnesota was 2-7 against ranked opponents âÄî something the Gophers would like to improve upon. âÄúItâÄôs so obvious that weâÄôre a completely different team, and that stems from the chemistry,âÄù sophomore middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúLast year we had the skills, but this year we have the skills and the chemistry, and thatâÄôs going to make a big difference.âÄù Minnesota has improved in several areas, from serving to receiving serve to recording a higher hit-efficiency. But against HawaiiâÄôs big hitters, the improved defense will become a big asset. âÄúDefensively, weâÄôre really working on our posture and staying low,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄú[Christine] Tan and Hailey [Cowles] have stepped up this year, and are really playing well.âÄù The other two teams on the schedule, Cincinnati and Wyoming didnâÄôt play nearly as impressive competition as Hawaii did in its first week. But Cincinnati did manage to come away with a 3-0 record. Sophomore outside hitter Stephanie Niemer took most of the BearcatsâÄô swings in the tournament, collecting 17 and 20 kills in consecutive games. Wyoming, meanwhile, went the other direction in its tournament, as the young team lost all three matches. The Cowgirls hit .157 as a team, and didnâÄôt have a player hit higher than .240. Considering this, HebertâÄôs goal for the weekend is certainly in reach. âÄúWe want to win the tournament,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúI think, after last weekend, everybody feels we can play, and I donâÄôt think anybody sees any reason why we canâÄôt.âÄù