Wis. hosts midweek border battle

The Gophers and Badgers are both 4-4 in Big Ten play.

Charlie Armitz

In a season full of twists and turns, MinnesotaâÄôs volleyball team will face another unknown this week.

The No. 14 Gophers travel to Madison, Wis., today for their first Wednesday match against an improved Wisconsin team.

Minnesota interim head coach Laura Bush said she doesnâÄôt mind playing early in the week, despite having less time to prepare for Wisconsin.

âÄúI actually like it,âÄù Bush said. âÄúIt gives the staff time to really prepare the team for two matches with space in between those matches versus back-to-back.âÄù

The Gophers (11-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) also play Saturday at No. 12 Purdue to wrap up the first half of Big Ten play. But theyâÄôll first have their hands full with the Badgers (12-8 overall, 4-4 Big Ten), who could match their conference win total from a year ago by upsetting Minnesota on Wednesday night.

âÄúTheyâÄôre playing with nothing to lose,âÄù Bush said. âÄúThey have some freshmen who are contributing. Their older players gel with those freshmen and theyâÄôre playing good volleyball.âÄù

Wisconsin hasnâÄôt defeated Minnesota since 2007, when it was ranked ninth nationally. The Badgers havenâÄôt been ranked since October 2008, while the Gophers have been ranked for 57 consecutive weeks.

Despite their even conference records, Minnesota is considered the favorite, largely because of its impressive strength of schedule.

The Gophers are ranked fourth in the nation in Rating Percentage Index, an objective strength of schedule analysis. Wisconsin is ranked 46th.

It speaks to the conferenceâÄôs strength that the team ranks third in RPI in the Big Ten behind undefeated foes Illinois and Nebraska

Minnesota lost to Nebraska on Saturday after leading 2-0 in sets. That prompted the team to spend much of MondayâÄôs practice reviewing film.

âÄúWe watched good things, things we needed to improve on, and crucial parts of the match when we werenâÄôt making the right decisions,âÄù senior Hailey Cowles said. âÄúWe saw video of us not pushing back at them, and not taking aggressive swings at the end of matches. ThatâÄôs one of our main focuses [this week].âÄù

Junior Katherine Harms, who takes big swings on almost every attack, said the team needs to up its intensity when faced with adversity.

âÄúWe learned that weâÄôre going to have to push,âÄù Harms said. âÄúNebraska was a great game for us to learn to deal with things like that.âÄù

Harms had 14 kills in the Nebraska loss âÄî her fourth consecutive game with at least 10 kills âÄî but committed 12 hitting errors.

Minnesota had 25 hitting errors in the last three sets of the match, while Nebraska started a streak of near-perfect volleyball. The loss dropped the Gophers to 4-4 in five-set matches (0-2 at home).

Minnesota has won all three of its five-set road matches. It has played well on the road, albeit with less consistency than at home.