Another week, another title

C.J. Spang

After dominating both Houston and Florida State in the first two matches of the Kansas State Invitational, Minnesota’s volleyball team had one last hill to climb to win the tournament.

That hill looked more like a mountain in the form of No. 24 Kansas State, which had its wild hometown crowd behind it.

The Gophers were able to handle the Wildcats in four games, and went 3-0 in winning the weekend tournament in Manhattan, Kan.

“We faced a good team playing at home and weren’t quite sure we had enough to beat them,” coach Mike Hebert said. “It’s a difficult environment and they are notorious for knocking off teams.”

The Gophers looked like they had plenty in the first two games, beating Kansas State 30-25 and 30-22. But the Wildcats battled back and beat Minnesota 30-26, adding a little drama to the conclusion of the tournament.

When asked if he was worried after losing the third game coach Hebert explained what he and his coaching staff were thinking about on the bench.

“Believe it or not we don’t think about wins and losses,” he said. “I was monitoring how well we were playing and if our chemistry was alive and thriving.

“If you start thinking about winning and losing you are in a world of trouble.”

Those thoughts were echoed by junior Meredith Nelson.

“We knew what we didn’t do to win that third game so I wasn’t worried,” Nelson said. “We knew what to fix and when that happens we can go out focused and fix it quickly.”

The Gophers did just that and despite being tied at 18 in the final game, pulled it together to defeat the Wildcats 30-25 in the fourth and final game.

It was a solid start to a nine-game road trip for a team that hadn’t spent any time away from the Sports Pavilion this season, but Hebert knows his team still has room to improve.

“We had solid passing and I was impressed with our blocking discipline,” Hebert said. “We need a ton of work on our offensive rhythm, but that comes with experience.”

With the win against Kansas State, the Gophers picked up their second tournament title of the year.

Meredith Nelson and Jessy Jones were both named to the all-tournament team and junior Malama Peniata was named tournament MVP.

“Meredith and Jessy played at a level much higher than anytime last season,” coach Hebert said. “They were much more mature and reliable.”

Peniata was shocked by her selection as the tournament’s most valuable player.

“I never expected it, but it feels great,” she said. “It was the team’s effort that got it for me.

“Meredith and Jessy had so many blocks and they worked their hardest this weekend.”

But the team knew Peniata stepped up her game this weekend.

“Malama was huge for us this weekend,” Nelson said. It’s very cool when a defensive specialist turns to a hitter and becomes tournament MVP.”