U hits back with

Sarah Mitchell

With a three-game losing streak threatening to ruin Minnesota’s chance of maintaining a spot among the Big Ten leaders, the Gophers volleyball team battled back from sluggish starts against Northwestern and Indiana to tally two 3-0 home wins over the weekend.
In both matches, the Gophers (14-5 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten) found themselves in danger of falling behind early, but unlike many young teams, Minnesota responded to the pressure of a deficit.
“That’s a sign of a team maturing a bit,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said, “gaining some confidence and carrying that confidence through the rest of the match.”
The Gophers defeated Indiana (10-7, 3-5) Saturday by scores of 15-13, 15-4 and 15-8. Facing a deficit at 13-9 in game one, however, it appeared the Hoosiers had the edge.
“It was our feet. We were slow,” Gophers outside hitter Sonja Posthuma said of the lethargic start. “The only thing Mike said through three games was `Move your feet.’ We had to pick it up.”
Freshman setter Lindsey Berg responded with a tipped a kill that gave Minnesota a side out. The Gophers’ surge continued behind a service ace from freshman outside hitter Yvonnne Wichert, a kill from freshman middle blocker Stephanie Hagen and a Hoosier attack error.
At a one point disadvantage, it was d233>ja vu for Minnesota. For the second straight night during game one, Berg rattled off two consecutive momentum-shifting service aces.
Indiana sided out, but Hoosiers outside hitter Jen Magelssen overpowered her jump serve, committing a service error. On match point, sophomore outside hitter Nicole Branagh prevented the Gophers from falling to 0-1 in the match when she added a service ace to the Gophers’ match total of eight.
The depletion of the Hoosiers’ passing game in the final points puzzled Indiana coach Katie Weismiller who said the Hoosiers’ top three passers were in at the time.
“I have no idea in terms of what happened mentally, but we just couldn’t step up and hit the ball,” Weismiller said. “Minnesota has an arsenal. They could go down with anyone.”
The Gophers’ devotion to blocking and defense in practice the past two weeks proved to be worth the effort. Minnesota outblocked the Hoosiers 10-6 while holding Indiana to a .079 attack percentage.
“I assume that was not Indiana’s worst effort,” Hebert said. “I think this is more Minnesota playing well than Indiana playing poorly.”
On Friday, the Gophers defeated Northwestern (12-8, 2-6) by scores of 15-13, 15-9 and 15-12, but had to overcome a sluggish start in game one.
Tied at 13-13, Big Ten service ace leader Berg nailed two consecutive service aces to break the Wildcats.
Behind a .303 attack percentage (to which sophomore Branagh contributed 22 kills) and 43 digs — 12 of which came from freshman defensive specialist Ali Berres — Minnesota ended its three match losing streak and answered some of the questions about Minnesota’s ability to compete in the Big Ten.
“We had great expectations during our preseason and everyone was looking at us like `What’s going on? What’s missing at the moment?'” Posthuma said. “I think we got it back.”
The Gophers travel to Purdue on Friday and No. 18 Illinois on Saturday. Minnesota’s away record in the Big Ten is 1-3, but with their newfound confidence the Gophers hope to prevent another road slide — especially after climbing to .500 in conference standings.
“For us, these two matches were who’s going to rise from the ashes and who’s going to get frustrated and be sentenced to another few weeks at the bottom,” Hebert said. “We held court.”