Sports Pavilion hosts weekend border battles

by Sarah Mitchell

Minnesota’s women’s volleyball team won’t be seeking revenge at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday. Instead, the Gophers might be looking for a sign of life.
In their Oct. 2 match at Wisconsin, the Gophers held an 8-2 lead in game two before the then 6th-ranked Badgers clawed their way to a 15-9 win on the way to a 3-0 win.
“I think we’re kind of excited for Wisconsin just because when we were at Wisconsin we knew we kind of let go of it,” sophomore middle blocker Erica Glaser said. “We know it’s possible. We’re frustrated with our play, but we know we can win.”
The No. 8 Badgers (19-3 overall, 9-2 in the Big Ten) sit behind Penn State in a tie for second with Indiana in Big Ten standings. Wisconsin has risen above the rest of the struggling conference teams behind the strong attack game of middle blockers Kelly Kennedy and Sherisa Livingston.
Kennedy, a junior, leads the team with 534 kills, while in her first year Livingston has smashed 352 kills. It’s defending the attack that seems to decide matches for the Gophers (14-7, 4-6).
“We seem to be siding out and hitting with the best of them,” assistant coach Maurice Batie said. “Our Achilles is blocking and defense.”
“And serving,” assistant coach Nao Ikeda quickly added.
The Gophers had limited time to polish their serving and defensive game this week. While Wisconsin comes to the Sports Pavilion sporting a 3-0 midweek victory over Iowa and a week slated with practices, the Gophers only prepared for the border battle on Wednesday and Thursday.
Minnesota had two days off this week after losing at Purdue and Illinois last weekend. But some of the frustrated Gophers were relieved to have time off.
Sophomore outside hitter Sonja Posthuma, who is from the Netherlands and not quite comfortable with the American concept of daily practices, supports the break. She said certain players are banged up and have been making regular trips to the treatment room.
“If we skip one practice it’s like, `Ohmigod, Penn State is still practicing and Wisconsin is still practicing,'” Posthuma said. “I understand the theory here. We have to catch up with them and how do you catch up with them? By practicing. But once in a while it’s not the right solution.”
If there’s one team in the Big Ten that might need to spend some extra time on the court, it’s Iowa. The Hawkeyes (16-14, 0-11), under the direction of first-year head coach Rita Crockett, have failed to win a conference match this season.
The Gophers struggled on the road against Iowa in early October, escaping with a 3-2 win. Even though the Hawkeyes have lost 21 consecutive Big Ten matches, Glaser expects a fight on Saturday.
“Iowa is a tough place to play, but the Hawkeyes are talented,” Glaser said. “We both want it and so it will be a competitive match.”
Iowa’s threat lies in outside hitter Julie Williams. The junior leads the team with 306 kills.
If the Gophers want to keep their NCAA preseason predictions alive, they must take advantage of the next two weekends at home. Minnesota has flopped on the road this season, winning only one of six conference road matches.
“From what I have been told, we need to win three of the next four matches,” said the co-captain Posthuma. “But we want to do better than that.”