U volleyball tightens grip on NCAAs with wins

by Tim Klobuchar

Before the Gophers volleyball team’s weekend road matches at Purdue and Indiana, Coach Mike Hebert figured his team needed three wins to solidify its place as an NCAA tournament selection.
Minnesota got two of those wins against the Boilermakers and Hoosiers to run its Big Ten record to 12-4 with four matches remaining. Since the tournament expanded to 48 teams in 1993, no Big Ten team with a record of 12-8 has ever been excluded by the NCAA selection committee.
Also, the tournament has taken at least five Big Ten teams every year since 1993. The Gophers are tied for third with Ohio State and Wisconsin, and are mathematically assured of finishing no lower than fifth in the conference.
Minnesota will most likely get its third necessary win Friday night at home against Northwestern. But the remaining schedule makes the Gophers glad they took care of business last weekend. They play No. 9 Michigan State on Saturday at the Sports Pavilion, then No. 4 Penn State and No. 11 Ohio State on the road the last weekend of the regular season.
The Gophers’ last few games look foreboding, so Hebert thought there was a little added pressure for the Gophers to beat Indiana and Purdue, two teams near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
“I felt it,” he said. “I tried really hard not to transfer it to the team, though. I tried to absorb as much of the pressure as I could, and keep the team task oriented.”
For the most part, the players weren’t able to see through Hebert.
“I don’t think there was any added pressure,” said Gophers junior Jane Passer. “I guess, in a way, there’s some no matter what match it is. It’s different when you’re expected to win.”
The reason for Hebert’s three-victory mandate is probably in the system the NCAA uses for selecting tournament teams. It’s a complicated one, much like the one used for the NCAA basketball tournaments, which factor in such criteria as strength of schedule and performance against common opponents.
Bauer continues to shine
As the setter, Gophers junior Becky Bauer usually can only point to the assist column as proof that she played a good match. She doesn’t get many kills or digs, two of the other well-known volleyball stats.
But Bauer, who earlier this year won the American Volleyball Coaches Association player of the week honors, contributes in plenty of other areas. One of those areas is serving, which helped the Gophers eliminate an 8-0 second-game deficit at Indiana.
“She had a superb weekend,” Hebert said of Bauer. “She did well blocking, and she was our most consistent server. She helped give us an advantage, and was the most noticeable player behind our comeback.”
Handling the serve was the key to Minnesota’s win the previous night at Purdue, another match in which they often trailed.
“One of the keys was our passing off Purdue’s serve,” Hebert said. “(Sarah) Pearman and (Katrien) DeDecker did very well handling some tough serves. It’s something we worked on all week, and it paid off.
Balancing act
In both matches during the weekend, the Gophers had five players (every starter except for Bauer) in double figures for kills.
That even distribution bodes well for Minnesota, which earlier in the year depended on DeDecker for a large percentage of its offense. Now, the Gophers more closely resemble a legitimate NCAA tournament team.
“With the exception of the Jordan era, how many teams win championships with the scoring champ on their team?” Hebert said.