Minnesota begins four-game road trip against Wisconsin and Iowa

Two border battles offer Gophers a chance to continue its warming streak.

Aleutian Calabay

The No. 13 Gophers volleyball team now faces the toughest part of its schedule. With only six matches remaining in the season, Minnesota goes on the road for four straight, where wins will be pivotal as the Gophers set their sights on the NCAA tournament. That road trip begins this weekend with a pair of border battles as Minnesota first heads to Iowa on Friday at 7 p.m., then Wisconsin on Sunday for a 1 p.m. match. âÄúAfter two-and-a-half decades in the Big Ten, I know that Iowa is always a tough place to play for a variety of reasons,âÄù head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúAnd then in Wisconsin we face one of the loudest, most raucous set of fans in the Big Ten, and none of them have any kind of love for the Gophers. âÄúI think both matches present a real difficult outlook for us in getting comfortable in their respective arenas. The biggest challenge is getting the team ready to play good, fundamental volleyball.âÄù Timing is on the Gophers side as both Iowa and Wisconsin are in tailspins. The Hawkeyes have lost their past five matches, winning only a total of two sets over that span. The Badgers are on a three-match losing streak, including losing their past two matches at home in straight sets to Penn State and Ohio State. The Gophers have been very streaky, especially over the last month of the season. Minnesota won three straight matches against Northwestern, Michigan State and No. 11 Michigan, only to follow that up with two consecutive three-set losses to Penn State and Ohio State. Minnesota wasted no time getting back into the win column by winning in straight sets last weekend at home over Indiana and Purdue. Those wins also gave Minnesota a solid hold over third place in the Big Ten with a two-game lead over fourth place Michigan. âÄúI think we are one of the elite teams,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThe Big Ten is a very tough conference and right now to be in the top three, that qualifies us as elite. I think weâÄôll be pretty good but weâÄôll know a lot more after this weekend.âÄù The fact that the end of the season is drawing near is beginning to hit home for the players as well. Although the Gophers have a spot in the NCAA tournament all but locked up, players remain focused to finish the season strong. âÄúWe really need to come together here at the end of the season and work hard every day in practice because every team we play is going to be top notch from here on out, so if weâÄôre not playing our best game weâÄôre really going to have to work through it in order to get a victory.âÄù Minnesota senior Taylor Carico said. The Gophers proved just how much hard work in practice can pay off for them as they came out very concentrated against Indiana last Friday and took large leads in each set. Freshman Tabitha Love has become one of, if not the top, offensive weapon for the Gophers, as she averages 2.28 kills per set . The Gophers have also begun deploying Katherine Harms more and more, as she has totaled 16 kills in the past four matches, including five against Purdue. âÄúTabby is going to remain one of our go-to left side hitters,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúThe more she plays the more confidence she gets. Harms started out relatively slowly, but in the last two to three weeks her cannon of a left shoulder has been scoring points for us and weâÄôre going to continue to give her more opportunities to do that.âÄù