Homecoming comes early for U volleyball

Sarah Mitchell

In the scientific world, they might be considered clones. In the Big Ten, they’re three volleyball teams struggling to reach their potential.
Minnesota, Northwestern and Indiana all post similar, sub-.500 records in conference play at 2-4, 2-5 and 3-4, respectively. But the teams’ coaches have kept their hands off the panic button, saying too much of the season remains.
“We’re not suicidal,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said.
“With the majority of conference teams having a losing record, we’re right there,” Northwestern coach Kevin Renshler said. “We have no gloom and doom approach and are just going to chip away at the Big Ten slate.”
“Our focus is to not let up,” Hoosiers coach Katie Weismiller said. “It’s too early in the Big Ten season to give up.”
Northwestern (12-7 overall, 2-5 in the Big Ten) comes to town Friday night, having just broken a five-match losing streak on Wednesday by defeating Indiana 3-0 at home. Although the Wildcats record is less impressive than the 25th-ranked Gophers (12-5, 2-4), Hebert is anticipating a battle.
“They beat Iowa 3-0 and it took us five games to beat Iowa,” Hebert said. “What’s really interesting is that although both teams have losing records, they are still very competitive.”
Northwestern wasn’t always a feisty team, but a coaching change has improved the team’s reputation. In his second season as coach, Renshler sports a 25-25 record.
“He really has that team believing they can win,” Hebert said. “Northwestern, for years, was the doormat of the conference, but that’s no longer true.”
Like the Gophers, Northwestern is team-oriented. While the team does have some standout players — outside hitters Carmen Burbach and Jennifer Halloway — Renshler, like Hebert, depends upon each player to contribute to a victory.
“I don’t need great individuals,” Renshler said. “I need a great team.”
Renshler said the keys to success are maintaining a balanced attack and distributing the ball equally. And while the festivities surrounding homecoming could be a distraction, Renshler expects the event to be “just another day at the fruit farm.”
Minnesota takes on Indiana Sunday. In her sixth season at the Hoosiers helm, Weismiller has built a veteran team led by senior outside hitter Jen Magelssen, junior outside hitter Ryann Connors and sophomore outside hitter Amanda Welter.
Those three are the major components of the quick Indiana (10-6, 3-4) team, but at 5-foot-7, Magelssen is the Hoosiers backbone.
“She passes the whole court for them, jump serves and is a defensive wizard,” Hebert said.
Stopping Magelssen is on the Gophers “must-do” list, while Weismiller said preventing the Gophers outside hitter from terminating the ball tops the Hoosiers’ priority list.
Neither team is labeling Saturday’s event as a desperation match, but the importance of adding to the win total has been realized by the Gophers and Hoosiers. Calling both teams well-rounded, Weismiller expects Saturday’s match to be intense.
“Hopefully we can regroup and go into Minnesota and compete,” Weismiller said. “We certainly feel like we can get this one.”
Minnesota needs to do a little regrouping of its own this weekend. The Gophers are 1-3 this season away from the Sports Pavilion and need to take advantage of the familiar surroundings. Hebert said Minnesota is focusing on recapturing the energy and confidence that carried the team earlier this season.
“More than anything I think that’s what’s on my mind,” Hebert said. “And I think the players understand that those two things are required if they are going to win conference matches.”