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Analysis: Gophers volleyball noticing growth after first stint of conference play

The Gophers are slowly starting to sync into a mutual rhythm as they head back home for another set of Big Ten games.
Image by University of Minnesota Athletics
The volleyball team will play in their third conference game this season on Friday.

The Gophers women’s volleyball team will continue to focus on growth as a whole before they enter their second weekend of Big Ten play beginning Friday.

The Gophers traveled to Iowa City, Iowa and Lincoln, Nebraska last weekend and the team defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes in five sets, only to be swept by the No. 2 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Head coach Keegan Cook said he learned a lot about his team and what they needed to work on throughout the 10 matches they have played so far.

“The adversities are never what you predict,” Cook said. “We’re all really good and bad at fortune telling.”

Nonetheless, Cook said he knew he had the right group of people in the gym after seeing their performance against Nebraska.

“They were ready to practice the next day,” Cook said. “I didn’t see dejection or emotions.”

That intensity-focused mindset is what the Gophers needed heading into a weekend against Michigan and Penn State on back-to-back nights. Cook said he is hoping to utilize the team’s depth to make sure they are in a good position to play up to 10 sets of volleyball in less than 30 hours.

“These are the kinds of weekends where, if you’ve got depth, you better use it,” Cook said. “This week in practice, we’ll be looking through all of our options to make sure we can make it through the weekend with everyone healthy.”

Senior Lydia Grote, a transfer from the University of California, has stepped up at the opposite position for the Gophers. She ranks second on the team in kills per set (2.65) and third in aces per set (0.216).

Grote complimented the efforts made by her team, saying much of her performance comes down to the Gophers’ ability to work as a team.

“In order for me to score points, or our outsides to score points, there is a digger back there making an awesome dig and our setters are working to put up perfect balls,” Grote said before competing against Iowa and Nebraska.

Despite splitting the opening weekend of conference play, the Gophers noticed significant improvements in their cooperative play. Melani Shaffmaster said the team is observing growth in the areas they are focusing on when looking back at the film.

Kylie Murr said for the team to continue their momentum as they make their way through fierce conference play, they will need to focus on improving for the future. 

“It’s a good thing we still have room to grow, we don’t want to be at our peak right now,” Murr said.

Aside from Minnesota, the Big Ten has five teams ranked within the top 25. 

With the bulk of the conference season still ahead, Murr hopes to lead her team to find the courage within themselves to attack bigger challenges during intense, in-game settings.

“It’s all about grit, it’s all about heart,” Murr said. “I’m just trying to empower them more to just go for it and take those big risks.”

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