Gophers have ‘good foothold’ to get out of rut

Minnesota got a couple of desperately needed wins this weekend on the road.

Mark Heise

Two wins have to look awfully good to the Minnesota volleyball team.

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Michigan State
What: Volleyball
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: Sports Pavilion

After losing eight of nine during the past month, the Gophers finally put together a strong weekend, sweeping Indiana on the road 30-22, 30-28, 30-28, before traveling to Purdue to win in four games 30-24, 24-30, 31-29, 30-26.

As his team has been slowly improving over the past few weeks, coach Mike Hebert expressed confidence in what the two wins meant for his team.

“I’m hesitant to predict the future, but it seems as though this is a really important hurdle for this team to overcome,” he said. “It appears that if they aren’t completely out of the rut, they at least have a good foothold to climb out of the hole they are in.”

Minnesota (15-11 overall, 8-8 Big Ten) launched a strong offensive attack against Indiana, putting up 23 kills and a .463 hit percentage in the first game to win 30-22. The Gophers slowed down in the second and third games, but still managed to overpower Indiana.

The Hoosiers received kills from seven different players while Minnesota only used five, receiving the bulk from freshman outside hitter Brook Dieter. Dieter moved back to the left side and excelled, collecting 23 of the team’s 60 kills to lead the way.

While Dieter gave most of the credit to junior setter Rachel Hartmann’s ability to set away from the defenders, she also complimented the team’s improved passing.

“Lately our serve receive has been very good, and these two games it was the same thing,” Dieter said. “We were passing really well, and that helps the offense run a lot smoother.”

Against Purdue (15-12, 8-8), it was more of the same for Minnesota. The Gophers tallied 26 kills in the first game alone, and Dieter collected 24 on the match.

But the real change in the team was shown in game three. Tied at a game apiece and knotted up at 29, Minnesota did what it hasn’t been able to in recent weeks: finish strong.

The Gophers collected back-to-back blocks to win as senior middle blocker Jessy Jones and Hartmann combined for the first, and junior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig added the game-winner.

“We just knew we weren’t going to lose,” Roehrig said. “We were down by four and still fought back, we had all the confidence in the world, and that was huge for us.”

Roehrig added 20 kills for the Gophers, while Jones collected 15 and freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer contributed with 14.

Following the year’s trend of switching things up, Hebert moved sophomore libero Christine Tan around in the back row to try to match up the defense against the strengths of the opponent’s offense.

It seemed to work for Minnesota, as the back row played consistently well throughout the weekend.

Hebert gave credit to his defensive specialists, but also praised his blockers for helping the cause.

“Back row play usually starts with a well-set block,” he said. “There’s a relationship between back row digging and what the block is taking away. I thought we were fairly well-coordinated this weekend.”