If there was one weekend for Minnesota’s volleyball team to prove its worthiness for being ranked nationally, this would be that weekend.
The 12th-ranked Gophers (16-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) host No. 20 Ohio State (12-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) tonight at 7, and No. 3 Penn State (17-2 overall, 8-0 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Coach Mike Hebert knows how big this weekend is for the team to restore confidence after a road split last weekend.
“If we can split this weekend and go 7-3 in this conference, I’d be pretty happy,” Hebert said.
Getting a win against Ohio State would help the Gophers separate themselves from the middle of the pack in the Big Ten; but a win against the Nittany Lions would get them within one game of first place.
Penn State coach Russ Rose said Minnesota is one of the best teams in the conference and might pose a problem for them.
“They’re capable of beating the No. 1 team in the country,” Rose said about Minnesota’s five-game match with Nebraska on Sept. 5, “and that should be enough for all of the coaches to recognize that Minnesota is going to be a handful.”
However, Penn State is on a roll as of late, as the team has won its past 11 matches. Only one of those matches went past three games.
Those results pose a challenge for the Gophers and Hebert.
“That team is huge, very physical, very skilled, and also play great defense,” Hebert said. “I just don’t see any vulnerabilities there.”
Hebert and Ohio State coach Jim Stone said Penn State has six solid players. In fact, a Nittany Lion has been named Big Ten Player of the Week six of the eight weeks this season.
Minnesota sophomore and outside hitter Sarah Florian knows how much work is needed to remove the zero from Penn State’s loss column.
“I think we have a few things we can work on, and we are going to work on those,” Florian said.
Hebert said the Gophers need to pass the ball better in order to succeed this weekend.
“If we don’t pass the ball accurately, our ability to score offensively really subsides,” Hebert said.
Minnesota’s leading passer is junior setter Kelly Bowman with 8.37 assists per game. The Lions have a bigger threat at setter with Sam Tortorello. The senior has 13.34 assists per game.
That type of performance has helped Penn State lead the conference with a .293 hitting percentage.
“We respect them,” Hebert said. “They have the most talent in the country.”