Pairing with Badgers helps Gophers volleyball team

Tim Klobuchar

The score didn’t reflect it, but Michigan State actually didn’t play all that well in its Saturday night victory over the Gophers.
Still, Gophers coach Mike Hebert expected a little more from the No. 6 and lone undefeated Big Ten team. One of the reasons he gave for Michigan State’s slightly ragged play was that the Spartans might have been looking ahead to their match the following night against No. 11 Wisconsin.
According to Hebert, that’s a common occurrence when Minnesota plays some of the conference’s elite, such as Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State.
The Big Ten pairs two schools that are relatively close together geographically, and schedules them against two other schools that are paired together over the weekend. For example, the Gophers’ partner throughout the year is Wisconsin, and last weekend they each played at Michigan State and Northwestern on opposite nights.
According to Hebert, while the best teams focus all week on trying to beat the best teams, the lesser teams set their sights a little lower. And with the highly ranked Wisconsin as the Gophers’ partner, teams such as Michigan State concentrate on Wisconsin. Teams like Northwestern, which is winless in the Big Ten but won a game from the Gophers, try to stay realistic.
“Since we play opposite Wisconsin, the best teams tend to overlook us,” Hebert said. “The rest of the teams prepare for us.”
Despite a 16-7 overall record and a 7-3 mark in the Big Ten, Hebert doesn’t consider his team elite quite yet. That means Illinois and Iowa, two middle-of-the-road teams, will be gunning for the Gophers this weekend when they visit the Sports Pavilion.
The Wall
That’s what Hebert thought Minnesota hit this weekend after a rough travel day, going from East Lansing, Mich., to Evanston, Ill. The Gophers beat the last-place Wildcats in four games but didn’t look tough doing so.
“Every year in mid-to-late October a team hits the wall,” he said. “The weather gets bad, midterms are around the corner, the cold season sets in. It’s tough to be as good mentally and physically after that as you were before.”
ù The Gophers’ emergence as a Big Ten contender has increased the media coverage of the team, resulting in the scheduling of a weekly press conference. The first one takes place today in the Bierman Field Athletic Building at 12:45 p.m., right after the football media luncheon.
ù The Gophers received five votes in last week’s USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Coaches Poll, the first time the poll has recognized them this year.
Other Big Ten teams in the poll are No. 6 Michigan State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 15 Ohio State.
ù Gophers senior outside hitter Katrien DeDecker is now 72 kills away from the all-time Minnesota record of 2,140. She leads the nation in kills per game with 6.23.