Gophers head east for Marquette

No. 9 Minnesota will wrap up nonconference play against Middle Tenn. State and Marquette.

Charlie Armitz

 

With Big Ten play on the horizon, the No. 9 Gophers volleyball teamâÄôs upcoming tournament at Marquette feels like the calm before the storm.

Head coach Laura Bush said the task is all hers to ensure her team doesnâÄôt get too calm in its last non-conference matches of the regular season.

âÄúWeâÄôre taking everyone seriously,âÄù Bush said. âÄúWe know that we still need to mature competitively. âĦ We need to respect every opponent we play.âÄù

Minnesota (5-2) will travel to Milwaukee, Wis., for the Marquette Tournament on Sept. 17-18. The Gophers play unranked Middle Tennessee State (2-5) at 5 p.m. Saturday and the host Golden Eagles (8-3) at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Neither opponent received votes in MondayâÄôs AVCA poll, which ranked Minnesota in the Top-25 for the 52nd consecutive week dating back to 2007.

The Gophers have played four matches against ranked teams in 2011, posting a 3-1 record. Their lone loss against an unranked opponent came last weekend against Kansas.

The Jayhawks took a 2-0 sets lead before winning 3-2. In MinnesotaâÄôs next contest âÄî a true road match against No. 15 Northern Iowa âÄî the Gophers rallied from a set down to score their own five-set victory.

The win was MinnesotaâÄôs second in a five-set match in 2011.

While this weekend is unlikely to produce such drama, it will provide another road test for the Gophers.

It will also a feature a rematch of a 2010 early-season battle between Minnesota and Marquette. The host Gophers defeated the Golden Eagles in three close sets  Aug. 28, 2010.

Marquette has won five consecutive matches in 2011 âÄî six if it defeats Middle Tennessee State on Friday.

To Bush, however, MinnesotaâÄôs toughest opponent is itself.

âÄúI see so many things that can get us in trouble,âÄù Bush said. âÄúWe really need to pass the ball well. We are so much more comfortable and confident when we are controlling the serve-pass game.âÄù

While the GophersâÄô passing game has improved from a year ago, it is still the teamâÄôs greatest weakness.

In the loss to Kansas, MinnesotaâÄôs inability to pass consistently proved costly.

âÄúIt was a little rough this weekend,âÄù sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman said, âÄú[it was] a little tight and tense with our passing. As the weekend got closer to the end, we were more comfortable.âÄù

Growing comfortable early in the season has been key for the Gophers, who have implemented a completely different system than they had last year.

Bush has also stressed throughout 2011 that progress, not results, is the goal.

So far, she has achieved both.

âÄúI think itâÄôs been really good,âÄù sophomore middle blocker Tori Dixon said of the new system. âÄúWeâÄôre a lot better mentally and physically than last year.âÄù

Whether Minnesota is strong enough to contend for a Big Ten title remains to be seen.

But Dixon says the team isnâÄôt worried about that.

âÄúWeâÄôre ready [for the conference schedule] right now,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs all about getting better. Even if we go in and fail miserably, itâÄôs going to be a learning experience for us.âÄù