Gophers at full strength for final road trip

Lindsay Guentzel

 

With 35 years of coaching under his belt, head coach Mike Hebert has seen his fair share of injuries.

But this season has been one for the record books.

âÄúThis is probably the most injury-filled year IâÄôve had as a coach,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúEverybody on the team has been hurt at one point or another.âÄù

As a result, the 19th-ranked Gophers have needed to re-arrange their lineup on a daily basis. Besides losing senior Hailey Cowles for the season, the team has also missed Lauren Gibbemeyer, Steffi Sooter, Katherine Harms and Tabitha Love at different points throughout the season.

But the Gophers have gotten healthy just in the nick of time. With just four matches left, the 10-6 Gophers practiced at full strength Wednesday, a good sign for a team that still has two weekends of tough opponents standing between them and a possible NCAA tournament berth.

Love, the most recent player bit by the injury bug, returned to the court after undergoing surgery Monday to insert pins into an injured finger on her left hand. While she played in one set last weekend, the coaching staff is still considering her status for this weekend.

âÄúSheâÄôs able to swing at the ball and use her forearms to dig at the ball a bit,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúI want to see her move around with a little more velocity and speed. I want to see how she blocks with one hand in a live situation.âÄù

He added: âÄúSheâÄôs been a trooper about it. If she can play, sheâÄôll play. She wonâÄôt have any problem with that.âÄù

While the injuries have frustrated the Gophers, just a season removed from the Final Four, Gibbemeyer noted how theyâÄôve also shown the team how strong they can be when faced with adversity âÄî a common scenario in a tough Big Ten conference.

âÄúWeâÄôve been getting lightning bolts all season long,âÄù said Gibbemeyer, who missed five weeks with a broken wrist. âÄúWeâÄôre all just used to it and we have this calm demeanor about us that when someone goes down, we kind of just collect ourselves.âÄù

She added: âÄúWeâÄôve just been really lucky with the few people that we have on the bench to come in and do big things.âÄù

The depth of the GophersâÄô bench came into play last weekend during the teamâÄôs back-to-back matches, with all three of the teamâÄôs freshmen notching playing time during the teamâÄôs victories over Michigan and Michigan State.

Junior libero Jessica Granquist picked up 22 digs in both of the GophersâÄô wins, earning her Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season. She leads the conference with 5.23 digs per match.

With road matches at Wisconsin and No. 9 Illinois on the schedule this weekend, the Gophers are gearing up for their last road trip of the season by concentrating on the basics.

âÄúOur primary focus is avoiding injuries,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWeâÄôre mostly doing ball control work, serving, portions of the game that donâÄôt involve contact.âÄù

The Gophers have already notched a win over the 4-12 Badgers this season and pushed the 13-3 Fighting Illini to a decisive five-set home match in October, giving some confidence for the weekend on the road.

âÄúObviously, every time we play anywhere, weâÄôre looking for a win,âÄù he said. âÄúWould I be happy coming back with a split? Yes. I think both matches are going to be very different so IâÄôd be happy with that.âÄù