No. 19 Gophers have tough weekend ahead of them

by Lindsay Guentzel

Losing to No. 20 Northwestern on Sunday wasnâÄôt the only downside to the GophersâÄô weekend on the road. The team also dropped from No. 16 to No. 19 in the AVCA top-25 rankings, falling behind No. 15 Michigan for the first time this season. It wasnâÄôt the only mix-up in the top-25 rankings. For the first time this season, 8th-ranked Illinois nudged out No. 9 Penn StateâÄîthe defending national championâÄîto become the top-ranked Big Ten team. But like almost all coaches you talk to, Gophers head coach Mike Hebert isnâÄôt too worried about it. âÄúBy no means is [the Big Ten] going to stay the same as it is right now in terms of the standings,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúI think almost [every Big Ten team] is still in it.âÄù That includes the 14-4 Gophers, who are currently tied for fourth place in the Big Ten with unranked Purdue. âÄúI donâÄôt think we are comfortable yet but I think the team is on the way to feeling that way,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúObviously a successful weekendâÄîwin or lose, if we play wellâÄîthatâÄôs going to give us a real shot of confidence.âÄù It wonâÄôt be easy for the Gophers. The team has a challenging weekend ahead of them, taking on both Penn State and Ohio State on the road. Both teams lost last weekendâÄîsetting them back to sixth and seventh place in the Big Ten, respectively. âÄúCertainly we expect Penn State and Ohio State both to be better than the teams that just went 0-2 last weekend because they will both be at home,âÄù Hebert said. With 14 matches remaining in conference play, home-court advantage has become a crucial element in Big Ten competition. Three of the GophersâÄô losses have come on the road, while IllinoisâÄîthe top-ranked team in the Big TenâÄîhas suffered all three of their losses on the road as well. âÄúAny win on the road is going to be good,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúMost teams who are going to finish in the top group are going to win a few on the road. If we were to come home with a split, IâÄôd be pretty happy.âÄù After the Gophers finish up their weekend on the road, they have two weeks of matches at homeâÄîstarting off with Big Ten leader Illinois on Oct. 22. âÄú[Our home games] will be super important,âÄù Wittman said. âÄúWhen we get to be here, we definitely want to defend our own home court.