Hebert pleased with his team’s efforts

After a nearly winless October, the Gophers have found a way to get back to winning.

Mark Heise

Entering the season, coach Mike Hebert had much different plans for the Minnesota volleyball team.

After opening the season with plans to make a run at not only the conference title, but the national title as well, Hebert and the Gophers had to re-evaluate their plans.

But with just one week left in the season, Hebert said he is still happy with his team’s efforts.

“That slump in the middle of the year was frustrating, and probably cost our reputation at the end of the season a little,” he said. “But by the same token, I think the effort by the team to climb out of that hole was significant.

“Sometimes character and success isn’t measured in wins and losses, but by how you face these types of situations. I feel as gratified with what this team has accomplished, as any other team that’s been here. It’s awfully difficult to do what they’ve done.”

Minnesota will try to finish what they’ve done this weekend, as it attempts to erase the memories of a nearly winless October with two more wins, traveling to Illinois to play at 7 p.m., Friday before taking on No. 9 Wisconsin at 7 p.m., Saturday in Madison.

“This weekend is no regrets,” junior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig said. “Two wins would be a great way for us to finish the season on the strong end and get ready for the NCAA tournament.”

The Gophers (17-11 overall, 10-8 Big Ten) have already tallied a four-game win streak, but will have to face a pair of teams that tore them apart in the beginning stages of the October slump.

Illinois (15-13, 7-11) held the Gophers to a .123 hitting percentage, while freshman outside hitter Laura DeBruler connected for 24 kills in a 3-1 shellacking on Oct 13.

“Illinois came in when we were unprepared, and I think we were still a little shocked from the night before and had a little confidence lost,” sophomore libero Christine Tan said. “They won that first game and we fell apart after that. We know that we’re capable of beating Illinois, and as long as we can keep playing the way we’ve been playing, we should be fine.”

Minnesota will still need to keep an eye on senior middle blocker Vicki Brown, who has averaged 3.35 kills per game with an impressive .338 hitting percentage this season.

DeBruler still gets the majority of the attempts, averaging 4.9 kills per game, but the freshman has struggled with consistency, hitting below the .200 mark.

The Illini have gone flat in the last two weeks, losing their last four matches and hitting .180 as a team over that span.

And in hopes of another win, Hebert said it would be up to the defense to keep Illinois around that same hitting percentage.

“Defense is always the foundation of any kind of prolonged effort to be a good team,” he said. “Defense is the backbone, and then after that comes serving, passing and keeping the ball on the court offensively.”

Wisconsin (23-4, 15-3) will be another challenge, as the Badgers have been ranked in the top 10 since the first week of the season.

A more experienced team than the Gophers, the Badgers have made use of their ability to win the important points, winning four of six five-game matches this season, both losses coming to ranked teams.

Wisconsin did show a chink in its armor at home against Michigan State earlier this season, dropping its only conference match aside from two losses to No.1 Penn State.

The Spartans shut down all but three of the Badgers’ six options on offense, and had big games from both left side hitters to up-end Wisconsin in four games.

Minnesota matches up well talent-wise with the Badgers, but will need an answer to sophomore outside hitter Brittney Dolgner’s 4.69 kills per game.

The Gophers’ left side hitters, freshman Brook Dieter and Roehrig, could both fit the bill, as the duo have come on strong over the last few weeks.

“Our middle blockers have been doing so well, they’ve been giving us the opportunity to hit against a single blocker,” Roehrig said. “It’s been really helpful, having everyone really starting to play well, it just makes the game that much easier.”