Volleyball team hits road, hopes to stay atop Big Ten

Brian Stensaas

Heading into the midpoint of the Big Ten season, the Minnesota volleyball team sits with three other teams at 7-1 atop the conference.
However, the seventh-ranked Gophers have hit the road just once over the last month.
The last weekend in September, Minnesota won a thrilling 3-1 match at Penn State and came back the next night to sweep Indiana.
Gophers coach Mike Hebert has no worries about being back on the road this weekend when Minnesota takes on No. 20 Michigan Friday and Michigan State on Saturday.
“We’ve been a good road team the last few years,” Hebert said. “I normally have a wave of trepidation that sweeps over me because of all these snake pit arenas we have to play in where the (home) team plays real good and our team plays bad and is intimidated. But this team doesn’t seem to feel that way. They’re very relaxed and confident.”
And they should be. After having its school record 15-match winning streak snapped Oct. 6 against Wisconsin, Minnesota got the derailed wheels back on the track to win three straight matches since. Perhaps the biggest of the three coming last Friday in a five-game marathon win over No. 11 Ohio State.
With their momentum engine cooking in fifth gear, the Gophers take on a Michigan State team that has suddenly found itself with a flat tire.
Earlier in the week, senior outside hitter Jessica Sanborn received news she suffered a broken ankle. Second in the conference in hitting percentage, Sanborn is a vital part of the Spartan offense, which is currently 5-3 in the Big Ten and tied for fourth with Penn State.
But Hebert isn’t declaring victory just yet.
“I think that Chuck (Erbe, Michigan State head coach) has enough talent on his bench to find the right answer,” he said. “It’s in the coaches hands. It’s either an opportunity to do something special or a reason to sit around and cry. I don’t know which way it will go for them.”
The two teams have traded series sweeps over the last two seasons. A year ago, Minnesota did away with the Spartans without giving up a game. During the 1998 campaign Michigan State won a 3-0 decision in East Lansing, Mich. and took a 3-1 win in Minneapolis.
On the other side of the state, Minnesota has had the Wolverines’ number in recent years.
The Gophers have won three-straight matches over Michigan, dating back to 1998. Since 1975, Minnesota has won 13 of 17 matches in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines sit at 3-5 in the conference this season, tied for seventh with the Hoosiers.
In order for the Gophers to return home victorious, the team can’t allow breakdowns, which happened last weekend against the Buckeyes in the first game.
But after a short absence, the Gophers’ passing game has returned and provided the kick needed to fuel the offense. On the defensive side, Minnesota assistant coach Brian Heffernan worked with Charnette Fair on blocks the whole week.
“It’s a matter of breaking it down and starting with each piece to build back up,” Hebert said. “You find out what is still broken and spend time fixing it.”
Friday’s match with Michigan State will be aired live on AM 630 WDGY beginning at 7:00 p.m. Saturday’s match begins at 6:00 p.m. and will be on the air, but on tape delay beginning at approximately 9:30 p.m.

Brian Stensaas covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]