Gophers prepare for Big Ten opener

by Lindsay Guentzel

Head coach Mike Hebert sat quietly on the sidelines Tuesday, watching as the 17th-ranked Gophers finished off their strenuous training circuits during practice. The players rotated between wall-squats, crunches, biking and court drills, training exercises aimed at helping improve the playersâÄô endurance for the long five-set matches they may encounter in the competitive Big Ten conference. It could be the key to a successful season âÄî all three of the GophersâÄô losses have come in five-set matches against other top-25 ranked teams, most recently No. 19 Michigan. âÄúToward the end of the match, our serving got a little soft,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúOur passing broke down just enough to allow them to score easy points and I donâÄôt think we felt as though we were together as a team as much as we need to be.âÄù Led by sophomore Tabitha Love, the Gophers took an early 2-0 lead but couldnâÄôt hold off an aggressive rally by Michigan âÄî who scored seven points on service aces. âÄúWe won the stat-cat battle,âÄù he said. âÄúWe out-hit them, we out-blocked them, we out-dug them, but we lost in the scoring column.âÄù The Gophers are still without senior captain Lauren Gibbemeyer, who injured her wrist during practice Sept. 8. She has been doing physical training with the team, but is still considered week to week, Hebert said. âÄúWe have a lack of veteran leadership on the floor and that really is what allows you to brace yourself in times of adversity on the court,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWeâÄôve just had to shift around so many things each time somebody got hurt that it really takes a while to identify those leadership kind-of-people.âÄù Well-aware of the work ahead of them, the GophersâÄô are ready to open up the Big Ten at home âÄî taking on Purdue on Friday and Indiana on Sunday at the Sports Pavilion. âÄúI love playing in this gym,âÄù junior Stephanie Nucci said. âÄúItâÄôs awesome, the atmosphere with the fans, itâÄôs one of a kind. You canâÄôt replace that.âÄù Added Hebert: âÄúIâÄôm hoping and counting on the fact that a home crowd will provide the kind of energy our young players need to gain confidence.âÄù Freshman Ashley Wittman, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the third time this season, said she hopes the team uses practice this week to their full advantage. âÄúItâÄôs time to prove ourselves and prove that weâÄôre not a team that fades,âÄù she said. âÄúI donâÄôt see that happening this weekend.âÄù