Minnesota spikes competition to sweep tourney

Although Montana State, Denver and Navy aren’t exactly at the top of the volleyball coaches’ poll, that does not mean Minnesota shouldn’t be pleased with the way they dominated their opponents this weekend at the Sports Pavilion.
The Gophers (9-3) swept the Diet Coke Classic, losing only one of their 10 games. It was the first time in the tournament’s four year history Minnesota took the crown.
Coach Mike Hebert cited the team’s defense and low number of hitting errors as keys to the tournament win.
“We had a couple minor breakdowns but I thought it was a very solid performance by us,” Hebert said.
The Gophers were led by tournament MVP Lindsey Berg, who topped the Gophers with 113 assists and nine service aces. Nicole Branagh and Linda Shudlick were also named to the all-tournament team.
Despite its superior play, Minnesota was challenged by the different tempos of play their opponents threw at them. But the Gophers responded well, and Hebert was pleased with the adjustments his team made, especially against Navy.
“It’s hard to go from a team that swings at the ball pretty hard to the style that (Navy) was playing,” Hebert said. “It threw us off in the beginning of the match. Once we adjusted we got back in control and did a nice job.”
Sophomore Lindsey Berg said the Gophers were ready for the different styles they faced.
“We just have to keep on reminding ourselves to hold our ground on defense and expect anything to happen,” Berg said.
The Gophers also used the tournament to prepare new lineups that will be necessary for the upcoming Big Ten season.
“It’s very important to have at least played some of the lineup variations that we may have to use in the conference,” Hebert said. “We got some valuable playing time and some familiarity with some of those variations.”
The Gophers wrapped up the tournament against Navy (5-7) Saturday night, allowing the Mids to score only 13 points. Despite Nicole Branagh’s streak of 10 or more kills in a match being snapped at 39 matches, the Gophers looked strong in the 15-5, 15-4, 15-4 win.
Minnesota’s one loss on the weekend came at the hands of Denver (5-5). The Gophers easily won the first two games before the Pioneers crawled back to win game three. Minnesota then slammed the door on any chance of a Denver comeback, for a 15-3, 15-3, 16-18, 15-5 win.
The Gophers jumped all over Montana State (10-3) to open the tournament Friday night, winning 15-2, 15-11, 15-6. Hebert said the game was typical of the way Minnesota has played all season.
“I thought we were relaxed and very controlled,” Hebert said. “Overall I was very happy with the style that we play.”
Lindsey Berg led Minnesota with 47 assists and Charnette Fair added a career-high 11 kills.
The Gophers finished their 12 game nonconference season with a very respectable 9-3 record. The team is now focused on the upcoming Big Ten season.
“We’re excited to start the conference,” Branagh said. “This tournament was important to win to get things going.”
John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at jcart[email protected]