Perfection at the Diet Coke Classic

by Mark Heise

It’s extremely hard to find something wrong with how Minnesota’s volleyball team played this past weekend.

The Gophers dominated in every aspect of the game, sweeping through the competition at the Diet Coke Classic at the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota didn’t drop a game in three matches, overpowering Connecticut (9-3 overall), Tulane (4-5 overall) and Dayton (9-5 overall) to come away with the tournament trophy.

“I can’t think of anything we didn’t do well,” coach Mike Hebert said Saturday night. “This was probably one of our best performances of the year, that’s about all that needs to be said.”

Minnesota opened up against Connecticut and appeared to know UConn’s game plan just as well as the Huskies did, exploiting many of their weaknesses in an impressive three-game win.

The Gophers (6-4 overall) outscored the Huskies on service points 51 to 23 and had a field day in blocks, recording 11 to Connecticut’s two. Sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig led Minnesota with 15 kills and a .542 hitting percentage in the 30-17, 30-19, 30-26 win.

Roehrig, despite the success of the front line, took the time to compliment the defense.

“One thing we did really well tonight was play defense,” she said. “Our defense was consistent again for us, and we can go out trusting that they will make the play for us.”

The defense continued to play well against Tulane as Minnesota held the Waves to an average of just 13 kills per game, compared to nearly 19 per game from the Gophers. Minnesota used this to their advantage completing the three-game sweep 30-24, 30-24, 30-22.

Sophomore outside hitter Kelly Schmidt played the first complete match of her career, and made the most of it with 12 kills and a .556 hit percentage.

Hebert had nothing but good things to say about Schmidt’s outing.

“Our intention was to get Kelly Schmidt some playing time in this tournament,” he said. “We had to know that Kelly could come in and perform like that, and I thought she played excellent volleyball.”

Hebert said the team’s main focus was the Dayton match, and it showed as they came out strong against the Flyers. Dayton’s blockers were out of position more often than not, and Minnesota took advantage of the open net to record 52 kills in a 30-18, 30-24, 30-20 win.

Senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson started Minnesota out on the right foot, recording seven of her 11 kills in the first game.

Sophomore outside hitter Katie Vatterrodt took the reins for the final two games, contributing 11 of her 13 kills in that span. Senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman played her best match of the tourney, finishing with 11 kills and a .579 hitting percentage.

“I felt it was important for us to set the tone early in the match,” Nelson said. “Part of our game plan was to pound the middle, and I’m glad we were able to execute on that.”

Three Gophers played exceptionally well throughout the tournament and were rewarded with all-tournament honors. Senior libero Malama Peniata led the Gophers with 49 digs and recorded four service aces, winning the tournament MVP award. Roehrig and sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann both made the all-tournament team, as Roehrig averaged nearly 13 kills per game to lead the team, while Hartmann contributed 116 assists and 29 digs on the weekend.

The three home wins elevated Minnesota above the .500 mark for the first time this season, pushing their record to 6-4 overall as they head into conference play. Vatterrodt said she felt the team’s performance would give them a boost as they begin the Big Ten season.

“The goal of this weekend was to build our confidence,” she said. “We’ve had different things affecting our team, so this weekend was really important for us to get together and have a good tournament leading into the conference schedule.”