Minnesota restores some order with wins

The Gophers’ post-season hopes have been revived since bouncing back.

Mark Heise

In the conversion from the lackluster team that couldn’t win in October to the defensive gem that is now the Minnesota volleyball team, the Gophers can look to two main factors: left-side hitting and improved play from the back row.

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What: Volleyball
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: Champaign, Ill.

Minnesota (17-11 overall, 10-8 Big Ten) picked up two more wins at home this weekend to extend its streak to four matches, topping Michigan State in four games, 30-23, 24-30, 30-21, 30-18 and sweeping Northwestern 30-25, 30-25, 30-27.

The Gophers’ left-side attackers, freshman Brook Dieter and junior Kyla Roehrig, have re-emerged from their slumps and sophomore libero Christine Tan has accepted a role of rover in the back row, playing whatever position needs the most attention each night.

Coach Mike Hebert said that this, combined with experience, is a big part to the recent success of the defense.

“Our defense has become more and more accustomed to playing with each other, and more aware of the level needed to compete in the Big Ten,” he said. “Those things begin to marinate over the season, and eventually you get to see the results.”

The Gophers controlled the Michigan State match early, holding the Spartans to a 0.109 hit percentage, while combining for 17 kills to cruise to a 30-23 win.

Games two and three were polar opposites of each other, as Michigan State (17-13, 8-10) took advantage of countless Minnesota errors to jump to a 14-1 lead, eventually leading to a Michigan State win, 30-24.

The third game saw the Gophers back in playing form from the start, as Minnesota claimed a 10-1 lead and never looked back. Freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer led the way with six kills as the Gophers won 30-21.

“I told the team that I called the police to find the people that were impersonating our team in game two,” Hebert joked. “The team told me in between games two and three, ‘we’ve got it.’ And they did.”

Minnesota committed just five errors in the third and fourth games combined, coasting in the final game to the 30-18 win. Dieter and Roehrig each contributed 18 kills in the match, leading the team. Tan collected a match-high 27 kills, as Michigan State was held to a .120 hit percentage.

“We really worked on working together with the block,” Tan said. “We adjusted to fit their style of play, and it was really effective.”

Dieter took control early in game one against Northwestern, recording seven kills to help the Gophers to a 17-14 lead.

Minnesota consistently attacked the Wildcats’ senior outside hitters with the serve, taking advantage of Courtnie Paulus and Lindsay Anderson’s early struggles to overcome Northwestern tying the game at 25 to win 30-25.

The Gophers made a quick break out of the gates in the second game, jumping out to a big lead with the help of strong defensive play and impressively improbable sets from junior setter Rachel Hartmann. The Wildcats climbed to within four at 24-28 but got no closer as Roehrig recorded seven kills to send Northwestern into a two-game deficit with the 25-30 loss.

Northwestern (17-12, 8-10) made its best effort in the third game, but Minnesota collected nine blocks in the game, including five block assists from junior Kelly Schmidt and senior Jessy Jones, leading the way to the 30-27 win.

The Wildcats hit just .068 against the Gophers, as Minnesota racked up 19 blocks in the match.

“Our practices are definitely defensive-oriented, and we were relentless tonight,” Jones said. “It was definitely a focus tonight.”