Gophers will try to extend hot streak against Iowa

Minnesota has a 21-match winning streak over Iowa that it will try to extend Friday.

Mark Heise

The Minnesota volleyball team may have knocked off three ranked teams in its last four matches, but it’s not time for the Gophers to relax quite yet.

Minnesota travels to play Iowa tonight in Iowa City, Iowa, which has been a hostile environment for Big Ten teams so far this year.

While the Hawkeyes have lost all four road matches against conference opponents in three-game sweeps, the team has found some comfort at home. They swept Indiana, and managed to take No. 14 Purdue to five games and 24th-ranked Ohio State to four games before losing both.

Despite the success Iowa has enjoyed at home, coach Mike Hebert and the Gophers have reason to be confident, including 12 wins in their last 13 matches, and their current 21-match winning streak over the Hawkeyes. Hebert said he was more interested in team performance than winning streaks.

“We just want to continue to play with the consistency we’ve been looking for,” he said. “Win or lose, I’ll be disappointed if we go to Iowa and play poorly either offensively or defensively. That’s what we’re looking for this weekend.”

No. 17 Minnesota (14-5 overall, 8-1 Big Ten) finally managed to combine quality offense and defense over its last two matches, hitting close to .275 while holding opponents to a hit percentage around .125.

Iowa (12-8, 1-7), meanwhile, has only hit .205 on the season, but the number has improved at home thanks especially to junior middle blocker Melanie Meister, who leads the team with a .309 hit percentage and averages three kills per game.

Another asset to the team is sophomore outside hitter and reigning team MVP Catherine Smale, who has averaged over three kills and three digs per game. After those two players, the Hawkeyes’ threats thin out.

Freshman defensive specialist Christine Tan has yet to face Iowa, but said she felt confident in the Gophers’ defense based on recent performance.

“We’ve done a good job of adjusting against every one of our opponents so far,” she said. “Our blocking and our backcourt have both played very well and I think as long as we continue to work in practice, we’ll be ready for whatever offense the other team comes with.”

As Minnesota reaches the halfway point of the conference season, Hebert said the Gophers are reaching where he wants them to be.

“We break the season into segments and we’ve got goals for each segment,” he said. “Rather than looking at record, we’re after those goals. We’ve met these goals, especially recently, and if we do that, we’ll be successful.”

Junior middle blocker Jessy Jones cautioned against underestimating Iowa despite Minnesota’s recent success, but expressed confidence in the team following an impressive 8-1 conference start.

“We don’t want to underestimate Iowa because the entire conference is tough,” she said. “But the way we’re going right now, with our offense and our defense both on track, I think it’s going to be hard for teams to match up against us.”