Volleyball set to host top-ranked Lions

Most of the talk at Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert’s sit-down meeting with the media on Tuesday didn’t surround the Gophers’ recent success.
The major topic was how, if in any way, Minnesota can upset top-ranked Penn State tonight at the Sports Pavilion.
Hebert said everything will have to fall into place for Minnesota (23-6, 13-3 Big Ten) to come out on top.
“(Penn State) has to have one of their off nights and we have to make very few mistakes,” Hebert said. “But there certainly is a chance we can win that match.”
No doubt about it — the Lions are on a roll. Coming into this weekend Penn State (26-1, 16-0) has won 26 matches in a row. One of those matches was against Minnesota last month.
A 27th win Friday will clinch the Lions’ fourth-straight Big Ten championship.
The Gophers don’t want to let that happen.
“We are looking forward to this with a great deal of enthusiasm,” Hebert said. “Our players really want to put on a show Friday night.”
But if the Gophers are to put on a show, they will need their leading actress — junior Nicole Branagh — to star.
Branagh had a career-high 39 kills last Saturday in a loss to Wisconsin. Hebert would love to see more of her this weekend.
“We’re going to try to replicate whatever she had for dinner that night and feed it to her again,” Hebert said. “We’re not going to make too many changes in her routine.”
With a large crowd expected for the battle of the Big Ten’s best, Hebert hopes the Gophers will live up to their expectations and take advantage of their opportunities.
“I’m thrilled people are thinking about Minnesota-Penn State as a big-time matchup,” he said. “How many opportunities do you get to play the number-one team in the country? We get two chances every year against Penn State.”
Senior Linda Shudlick said the team won’t be doing anything differently against Penn State.
“We have the tools,” Shudlick said. “We just have to bring them together.”
Regardless of whether Minnesota survives Friday night’s fight, they will have to go at it again Saturday against Ohio State.
The Gophers and Buckeyes battled last month, with Minnesota escaping Columbus with a long five-game win.
At this point in the season, the Gophers are aiming to win at least two of their final four matches.
“That would put us at 15 wins, which would set the record for most conference wins by a Minnesota team,” Hebert said. “That would be an incredibly nice statement to make.”
Injury update
Lisa Aschenbrenner and Heather Baxter are out for this weekend. Linda Shudlick will play, but her playing time may be limited due to sore knees.
Ticket information
As of Thursday afternoon, 2,000 tickets were sold for the match against Penn State. Women’s ticket manager Ron Lynch expects a near capacity crowd of 5,700 on Friday.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]