All hail Gophers volleyball

The Twins were eliminated by the Yankees Ö again. The Gophers football team blew a late lead against Michigan Ö again. And the New England Patriots, with a record-shattering 19-game winning streak, will probably win the Super Bowl Ö again.

Give the Twin Cities a break! In the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield, Minnesota sports “can’t get no respect.”

With the Twins’ season over, the Twin Cities are still starved for a championship. The Gophers have little to play for, other than avoiding another trip to El Paso, Texas. The Vikings still have one of the best records in the NFL, but the Philadelphia Eagles have already beaten them this year and look primed for a trip to Jacksonville, Fla. With the NHL lockout in its third week, the Wild will be lucky to skate this year, and the Minnesota men’s hockey team hasn’t improved from last year’s team that fell short of the Frozen Four.

I know what you’re asking: What about the Timberwolves? The Big Three are back and don’t have a stacked Lakers lineup standing in their way this year. The San Antonio Spurs, however, made some smart offseason moves to propel them to the NBA Finals, in which the Eastern Conference representative is likely to be the defending-champion Detroit Pistons. Returning nearly everyone from last year and adding Antonio McDyess and 2003 first-round draft pick Carlos Delfino, Motown looks ready to win Mo-Championships.

But pick your heads up, there is a bright spot in the overcast skies of Minnesota ‘s sports atmosphere. Take a look under the radar to find Minnesota’s fifth major sport – volleyball. Entering the season the top-ranked team in the nation, the University women’s volleyball team has only lost to Southern California and Ohio State, ranked second and ninth, respectively.

Mammoth blocks, highlight-reel digs and floor-bruising kills are all characteristics of a team focused on returning to the Final Four. The Gophers turned heads last year as an oddball team from the chilly Midwest, going up against the beach bums from Southern California, Florida and Hawaii. Although they lost to Southern California, the Gophers brought the party back to the Sports Pavilion for another year of excitement.

Volleyball is possibly the most underrated spectator sport. Each point is a game in itself, with no clock, just a race to 30 points. The setter takes command of her team as a quarterback, covertly signaling plays as a secret agent. The serve is either the beginning to a gut-wrenching rally, or it is just bait to pound back over the net for a quick point.

Although the competitive nonconference schedule brought fun to the hardwood, the tournament of thrills is far from over. With only conference games remaining, every game has bragging rights on the line. The Big Ten schedule includes some marquee matchups, including powerhouses Penn State (No. 6), Ohio State and Illinois (No. 24).

The Gophers are currently ranked third in the nation, behind top-ranked Washington and Southern California. With so many other Minnesota sports teams breaking so many hearts, there is no better time than now to jump on the volleyball bandwagon.

Mike Durkin welcomes comments at [email protected]