Gophers go 1-2 in season-opening tournament

by C.J. Spang

With its first match of the season a day away, Minnesota’s volleyball team received some weekend-altering news.

Because of circumstances surrounding their participation in a sand volleyball tournament this summer, seniors Kelly Bowman and Malama Peniata were suspended by the NCAA for three and six matches, respectively. The team is appealing to have Peniata’s suspension reduced.

Without the two key components of their passing game, the 22nd-ranked Gophers had a disappointing weekend at the St. Louis University Billiken Invitational, defeating host St. Louis on Friday, and dropping matches to Louisiana State and Texas A&M on Saturday.

“It was such a surprise to us when those penalties came down we just didn’t have time to prepare and didn’t really have the replacement personnel,” coach Mike Hebert said. “Even if we had time to prepare, I’m not sure we would have been able to replicate what those two could do.”

In its first match of the season, Minnesota (1-2 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) downed the Billikens in four games, 32-34, 30-24, 30-18 and 30-27.

Junior middle blocker Jessy Jones led the Gophers with a career-high 18 kills while sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig turned in her first career double-double, notching career highs with 15 kills and 11 blocks.

“We played extremely well,” Hebert said. “We were pushed very hard by a young and improving St. Louis University team and responded emotionally and performance-wise in a very positive fashion.”

Tournament champion LSU dispatched Minnesota in just three games, 30-18, 31-29 and 30-23. The Tigers dominated offensively, hitting .339 while tallying 56 kills and eight service aces. The Gophers hit .178 and had 36 kills and two service aces.

The final match of the tournament wasn’t any better for Minnesota as it lost a four-game match to Texas A&M 22-30, 30-24, 31-29 and 30-25.

Sophomore outside Katie Vatterrodt was named to the All-Tournament team and was the only player to turn in three solid performances for the Gophers, notching 15, 11 and 12 kills, respectively.

“I think Katie Vatterrodt hit really well,” Nelson said. “Especially considering she was getting a lot of out of system balls, a lot of high sets and a lot of sets that were harder to deal with because our passing struggled a little bit.”

While passing was a concern of Hebert’s this season – with the loss of three-time All-American Paula Gentil – he said expects some immediate improvement when Bowman and Peniata rejoin the lineup.

But that won’t solve everything, as Hebert highlighted the Gophers’ inconsistency as another area in need of improvement.

“The big thing we have to do is get players who are great one night and not great the next night to be much more consistent and in more control of their game,” he said.

Although the weekend was a disappointment, the team doesn’t consider it a bust.

“We’re ready to go back into practice and change what we did wrong and grow on what we did right,” Vatterrodt said. “It was kind of good for us to have this first weekend.”