Gophers bounce back with two road wins in Michigan

Minnesota rallied from a 2-0 sets deficit to defeat No. 18 Michigan

Katherine Harms, Tori Dixon

Daily File Photo

Katherine Harms, Tori Dixon

Charlie Armitz

What a difference one weekend can make.

Fresh off consecutive straight-set losses at Ohio State and Penn State, the No. 14 Gophers volleyball team won at No. 18 Michigan and unranked Michigan State on Oct. 7-8.

It was the first time since 2005 that the Gophers beat the two Michigan teams back to back in one weekend on the road.

Minnesota improved to 3-3 in the Big Ten with the sweep (10-5 overall), and put itself in a position to make a mid-season run for a conference title.

âÄúThe team was on point about how we needed to defend both opponents,âÄù interim head coach Laura Bush said. âÄú[We] executed the game plan and it turned our way.âÄù

The Gophers rallied from a 2-0 sets deficit Friday night, defeating the Wolverines 22-25, 18-25, 25-23, 25-19, 15-10 to end a five-match losing streak in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Minnesota also ended a streak of eight consecutive sets lost when it held off a late Michigan rally in the third set.

Key to the GophersâÄô turnaround was their serving, which had failed them in the losses to Ohio State and Penn State.

Minnesota served five aces in the match âÄî three in the fifth set âÄî and five service errors.

Michigan, which led the Big Ten in aces coming into the weekend, had three aces and seven service errors.

The Gophers also set a season-high with 15.5 blocks, while holding the Wolverines to five blocks. In the last three sets, Minnesota out-blocked Michigan 11.5 to 2.

To Bush, the teamâÄôs comeback was a factor of excellent play on all fronts.

âÄúI donâÄôt know if any part of our game stepped up,âÄù she said. âÄúI think it was the collective unit working well together and being able to put together a nice charge to get the points at the right time.âÄù

Sophomore Tori Dixon had four blocks and added 17 kills to accompany a .577 hitting percentage.

As a team, the Gophers hit .714 in the fifth set with 10 kills and no errors âÄî their best percentage in any set since Aug. 31, 2009.

Dixon was one of three Gophers to have double-digit kill totals in both wins.

Sophomore Ashley Wittman led the team with 20 kills against the Wolverines and added 15 against the Spartans.

Junior Katherine Harms, whose inconsistent play left her out of the rotation at times early in the season, had perhaps her best weekend as a Gopher. The outside hitter posted a career-high 19 kills against Michigan and added 15 against Michigan State.

âÄúIt helped having my other hitters [playing well],âÄù Harms said. âÄúThe team is working really well as a whole, and it helps my team out if IâÄôm [playing well].âÄù

Minnesota defeated the Spartans 25-22, 25-22, 27-25 in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday night âÄî the teamâÄôs seventh consecutive win over Michigan State.

The Gophers trailed 10-4 in the second set and 22-18 in the third, but came back and finished each set with poise. They won the match on consecutive kills from Dixon and Wittman.

Wittman had nine kills in the third set alone.

MinnesotaâÄôs .308 hitting percentage against the Spartans was its best in a Big Ten match since Nov. 19, 2010.

The balanced attack employed by the Gophers over the weekend may be a sign of good things to come. Historically, Minnesota has played well when multiple hitters have become a part of the offense.

Bush did not comment on whether Harms would step into a major role offensively. But the future looks bright if she does âÄî the Gophers are 7-0 in matches in which Harms records 12 or more kills. Four of those matches have come in 2011.

One position battle that Minnesota appeared to settle was at setter, where both junior Mia Tabberson and freshman Kellie McNeil have seen playing time in Big Ten matches.

McNeil briefly subbed in for starting setter Tabberson in the second set against Michigan and committed two errors during a 6-2 Michigan run. That prompted Bush to reinsert Tabberson, who remained the GophersâÄô setter for the rest of the weekend.

Tabberson had 97 assists, 16 digs and four blocks in the teamâÄôs two wins.

âÄú[Tabberson] played really well this weekend, as did my passers,âÄù Dixon said. âÄúIt was a team effort on how we could stay most efficient.âÄù

Minnesota faces another important test next weekend when it hosts Iowa on Oct. 14 and No. 6 Nebraska on Oct. 15. The Huskers are one of two undefeated teams in Big Ten play.