Gophers get second shot at Michigan

by Lindsay Guentzel

During the first conference road trip of the season, the No. 22 Gophers took a 2-0 lead over No. 16 Michigan into the third set. Then things started to come apart. Falling 2-1 on a service error, the Gophers dropped the final two sets 23-25 and 14-16, giving the Wolverines a decisive five-set victory in MinnesotaâÄôs first conference match of the season. The match left a sour taste in the GophersâÄô mouth, as they were just a set away from their first road-win over Michigan since 2005. TheyâÄôll have a second chance at the Wolverines, this time at home, where theyâÄôve fared much better this season. âÄúThis is our game,âÄù said sophomore Tabitha Love, who is fifth in kills in the Big Ten. âÄúThis is our home-court advantage. WeâÄôre all really focused on going in and getting that win.âÄù With a 10-4 Big Ten record, Michigan sits right above the Gophers in third place, having picked up big home wins over 9th-ranked Illinois and 24th-ranked Northwestern. But as the season has shown, Big Ten teams have struggled on the road, and Michigan is no exception. Three of the WolverinesâÄô four losses have come away from home, and the Gophers hope to make it four of five. âÄúWe know this gym,âÄù Love said. âÄúWe practice in this gym every day. We know the lines, the spacing. It just feels like home.âÄù During a season plagued with injuries, thereâÄôs a good chance the Gophers will be back at full strength this weekend for the first time since losing senior Lauren Gibbemeyer on Sept. 8. It all depends on sophomore opposite hitter Katherine Harms âÄî the fourth Gophers player to miss playing time this season due to an injury. SheâÄôs still considered day-to-day after spraining her ankle on Oct. 29, although the team hopes to have her back playing this weekend. âÄúIâÄôve never been on a team thatâÄôs had three or four people go down at each point of the season,âÄù freshman Ashley Wittman said. âÄúBut weâÄôve done well at coping with it all.âÄù With NCAA tournament selection date is six matches away, the Gophers are still two wins shy of eligibility. The team hopes to notch both of them this weekend when it hosts Michigan and Michigan State in back-to-back matches at the Sports Pavilion. âÄúEveryone plays much better at home and you want to defend your own court,âÄù Wittman said. âÄúPlaying them here and knowing what their strengths are will help us.âÄù With a win against Michigan State already under their belts, the 3-11 Spartans should be no problem for the powerful Minnesota squad who have beat the 10th place team during both match-ups the last two years. âÄúItâÄôs great that we have four of our next six [matches] at home,âÄù Love said. âÄúThis weekend weâÄôre going to try to come out with two big wins.âÄù