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by Sarah Mitchell

Minnesota’s women’s volleyball team is slightly frustrated.
After compiling a threatening 10-1 preseason record, the Gophers looked to make a run at a spot in the Big Ten’s upper division. But for the second consecutive weekend, No. 23 Minnesota split at home, falling 1-3 to No. 18 Michigan State and reversing the score for a 3-1 one victory against Michigan .
Because of the unexpectedly turbulent conference season, the Gophers (16-9 overall, 6-8 in the Big Ten) find themselves in sole possession of sixth place in Big Ten standings, with an NCAA tournament bid drifting slowly out of view.
“It’s hard to lose knowing we have a great amount of talent,” senior outside hitter Jill McDonell said. “Every night there has to be a winner and loser and we seem to fall on the short end of the rope.”
Unlike Friday’s loss to Michigan State (19-4, 11-3), the Gophers pulled out of a lethargic game one funk to pull off a 3-1 victory Saturday. After falling 5-15 to Michigan in game one, the lifeless Gophers revived themselves behind the play of freshman Stephanie Hagen.
The middle blocker smashed seven of her 13 match kills in the second game, most of which resulted from Michigan overpasses off aggressive Minnesota serves. By the match’s end, Hagen did not tally one hitting error.
“(It’s) pretty remarkable that Steph Hagen as a freshman could go error-free in a four-game match,” Hebert said.
Minnesota’s service game claimed more points in game three. Freshman outside hitter Yvonne Wichert served four consecutive aces, helping the team break a 4-4 tie. The Gophers recorded three more service aces to end the game at 15-6.
After game four, a 15-2 Minnesota decimation, Michigan coach Greg Giovanazzi voiced concerns about his team’s future. As the owner of a .500 record, Michigan’s (12-12, 4-10) chances of post-season action are dwindling.
“I think this is the match that may have decided whether we go to the NCAA tourney,” Giovanazzi said.
Minnesota’s hopes of being invited to the tournament were slightly tarnished on Friday. The Gophers failed to overcome a sluggish start, as they were defeated by Michigan State by scores of 7-15, 7-15, 15-10 and 6-15.
Game three provided plenty of entertainment, as several Gophers stepped up their level of play. Sophomore outside hitter Sonja Posthuma was the ignitor of the turnaround, adding four kills and three digs. But the lack of positives troubled the Gophers coach.
“I think we need a couple of more players,” said Hebert, who feels it might be too late in the season to rely on practice as a team strengthener.
Minnesota hits the unfriendly road this weekend, facing the most grueling series of its schedule. The Gophers face No. 8 Wisconsin on Friday followed by No. 2 Penn State on Saturday. But with only six conference matches remaining, the team is focusing on the bigger picture — the NCAA tournament.
“We’re a bubble team,” Hebert said. “We need to get at least three or four matches.”