Struggles follow Gophers on the road

Minnesota’s five game losing streak is the worst in the program since 1995.

Mark Heise

Something has happened to the Minnesota volleyball team.

The No. 13 Gophers (12-8 overall, 5-5 Big Ten) finished out the first half of conference play on a five-match losing streak, with losses at Northwestern on Friday and Michigan State on Saturday. And after all the hype surrounding the team at the beginning of the season, this wasn’t a place many expected Minnesota to be.

up next

Penn state
What: Volleyball
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: Sports Pavilion

And yet, it is exactly the spot they find themselves in; out of the conference race, and searching for answers to right the ship before anything else happens.

“I think we all expected to have a winning record right now,” freshman outside hitter Brook Dieter said. “But things have happened and it’s been disappointing to all of us.”

The streak extended to four matches in a five-game loss, 16-30, 30-25, 27-30, 30-27, 15-17 at Northwestern. The Wildcats (11-9, 2-7) took advantage of Minnesota’s struggling offense, holding the Gophers to a .193 hit percentage.

Northwestern was led by junior middle blocker Chelsy Hyser, who hit .405 while recording 18 kills. Senior outside hitter Lindsay Anderson added 21 kills and four aces.

For Minnesota, senior middle blocker Jessy Jones said she was planning on going after Northwestern, and she was true to her word, hitting .435 with a team-high 16 kills and nine blocks.

Junior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig added 14 kills with a .303 hit percentage, and Dieter got back on track, picking up 11 kills and seven blocks along with a hit percentage of .333.

Unfortunately, three strong performances weren’t enough, as the rest of the team combined to hit just .036.

“We ran into two teams that had better personnel than their record indicates,” coach Mike Hebert said. “And right now we’re blood in a pool of sharks. Those two teams were hungry.”

Michigan State (13-9, 4-6) fared even better against the Gophers, sweeping Minnesota in three games, 28-30, 33-35, 22-30. But it was an entirely different match as both sides were driven by an offense that outmatched both defenses.

“This was sort of a weekend from hell for us, although I have to say we played fairly well both nights,” Hebert said. “We played better than last weekend. The whole story isn’t about who wins and who loses; it’s about how we’re playing.”

For the Gophers, it was once again Jones, Roehrig and Dieter leading the way, and freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer got in the mix as well, picking up 15 kills and a .375 hit percentage.

But the defense faltered, recording just 32 digs as a team and the Spartans got some lucky bounces, allowing them to hit .400 on the match.

“It was just frustrating,” Jones said. “Balls were dribbling over the net, we were hitting people and the ball would come and land in the corner of our court. Things that don’t happen everyday were happening.”

With another two losses, Minnesota has now lost five in a row for the first time in Hebert’s career as the Gophers’ coach, as a streak of that magnitude dates back to 1995.

Minnesota is doing that on the heels of winning its first five conference matches for the first time since 2002, making the losing streak even more befuddling.

“It’s definitely a frustrating thing to have happen to you,” Dieter said. “It’s so confusing to be on the top of the Big Ten and then suddenly go from that to this. We don’t know what’s going on and we don’t have answers right now. We just want to fix it and get back to winning.”

And with No. 2 Penn State coming to town next weekend, things won’t be getting any easier for the Gophers.

It might turn out to be an interesting week of practice as Hebert tries to find a way to get his talented team back on track.

“Getting ready for what might be the best team in the country is always a challenge,” Hebert said. “I think our biggest concern right now is getting our confidence back. What we had was kind of shot, and we’re still working on regaining that.”