Spikers stay undefeated in winning home tournament

by Monica Wright

As if cruising to an easy championship in their home invitational wasn’t enough, the Gophers volleyball team set several records as they improved their record to 11-0 over the weekend.
The tournament began Friday in front of a non-conference record crowd of 2,789 fans as the Gophers dominated Tennessee with a quick 15-5, 15-5, 15-11 win. Minnesota topped the Lady Vols in almost every statistical category.
Junior Yvonne Van Oort led the team as she served eight consecutive points and contributed twelve kills and fourteen digs to defeat Tennessee.
The match also happened to be a record setting 100th at Minnesota for coach Mike Hebert, but one he said lacked intensity on the part of the Gophers despite the victory.
Minnesota started Saturday’s contest against Seton Hall strong, breezing to easy 15-8, 15-7 wins.
But the third game saw significant restructuring on the part of Minnesota as staple starters Nicole Branagh, Lindsey Berg, Stephanie Hagen and Charnette Fair were pulled in favor of several inexperienced underclassmen.
Though the Pirates took advantage of the third-string competition for a 15-11 victory, Berg felt experience was more important than the points for the under-used players.
“Down the road if some of our starters are having a rough time those freshmen and sophomores will come in,” Berg said. “Playing now gives them confidence and their nerves will be gone when they play a Big Ten game, and it helps our team with depth.”
After the loss Hebert returned seasoned players like Lisa Axel, who had career highs with her seven kills and ten digs, leading to a 15-4 win.
Saturday night saw much of the same as Minnesota defeated Akron for the tournament championship 15-12, 15-9, 15-5.
The win also extended the Gophers undefeated status as they enter their Big Ten schedule this weekend, something that hasn’t happened in 22 years.
Despite the stellar record, Hebert doesn’t believe his team has any advantage heading into this weekend.
“It doesn’t really mean anything for us to go into the Big Ten undefeated, it’s more about who is ready and prepared,” Hebert said.
“It’s always better to win than lose, but we’re starting new in the Big Ten.”
More important to Hebert is the leadership on his team, leadership he looks for from tournament MVP Berg.
Berg, who earned her second such honor in as many weeks, was the clear leader on the court throughout the tournament and was the missing piece during the Gopher’s only loss Saturday, Hebert said.
“I’ve coached a lot of great players and Lindsey is right there at the top.” Hebert said. “She gets the team under control and they follow her guidance on the court.”

Monica Wright welcomes comments at [email protected]