26-30, The fifth-ranked Minnesota volleyball team (7-1) defeated Northern Iowa (3-4) in four games by scores of 26-30, 30-25, 32-30, 30-24 to win the Diet Coke Classic Championship at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Sept. 12. Minnesota finished 3-0 in the Diet Coke Classic, No. 4 Florida was 2-1, No. 15 Kansas State was 1-2 and Northern Iowa was 0-3.
For the second time in as many weeks, Erin Martin (Ames, Iowa) received tournament MVP honors. Paula Gentil (Forteleaza Ceara', Brazil) was also named to the All-Tournament team, along with Jane Collymore (Florida), Sherri Williams (Florida), Angie Lastra (Kansas State) and Rachael Tink (Northern Iowa).
Martin also paced Minnesota with 19 kills and three blocks against the Panthers. Jessica Byrnes (Minnetonka, Minn.) hit .462 (15-3-26) with a season-high 15 kills on the match. Gentil also had a match-high 28 digs, giving her 93 for the three matches in the Diet Coke Classic.
Trisha Bratford (Reseda, Calif.) and Kelly Bowman (Maple Grove, Minn.) also had double-figure kills with 11 and 10 respectively. Bowman also had 11 digs and eight assists. Lindsey Taatjes (Prinsburg, Minn.) had 55 assists for a third consecutive match, along with 11 digs. Marci Peniata (Plymouth, Minn.) finished with 15 digs.
"We were concerned about the fatigue after playing long five-game matches two nights in a row," said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. "It seemed like we got done playing last night and were right back in the building to play a quality Northern Iowa team. The high level they played at was no surprise. We have played Northern Iowa for seven or eight years now every year and it is always a dog fight. We are excited to win a tournament, in front of our home fans, with such a quality group of teams."
Northern Iowa jumped on Minnesota early in game one, as it got out to a 13-6 lead. Minnesota ran off an 8-1 run to tie the score at 14. The Panthers pushed the lead out to 21-18, but the Golden Gophers scored five of the next seven points to tie the match at 23. The two teams tied again at 24, but Northern Iowa ripped off four of the next five points to get game point at 29-25. Minnesota fought off one game point, but Tink put down a kill to give the Panthers game one 30-26.
The Panthers outhit Minnesota .324 to .128 in game one. Martin paced the Golden Gophers with five kills in the game.
Northern Iowa jumped out to a 12-10 lead in game two. The Panthers led all the way until the middle of the game when they were up 18-17. However, Minnesota went on an 8-0 run to go up 25-18. Gentil sparked the run with a service ace, and was behind the service line for the whole run. Northern Iowa scored six of the next eight points to cut the score to 27-24, but Taatjes halted the momentum with a kill to make it 28-24. Minnesota pushed it to game point at 29-25, and Bratford put down a kill to give the Golden Gophers game two 30-25 to tie the match at one game apiece.
Minnesota was outhit .149 to .128 in the second game, but held a 23-to-15 edge in digs and had 17 kills to Northern Iowa's 14. Martin paced the Golden Gophers with six kills in the game.
"It was great to get the service ace that put us up 19-18 in game two," said Gentil. "A service ace is like a free point in the amount of effort you have to put forth to make it happen. Against a tough team like Northern Iowa we needed to get some momentum and that got things started for us in the second game."
The Golden Gophers led most of the way in the third game, and found themselves up 25-22 late in the game. Northern Iowa came storming right back with five of the next seven points to tie it at 27. Bratford followed with a kill to make it 28-27, but Northern Iowa's Laura Rowen had back-to-back kills to give the Panthers game point at 29-28.
Martin followed with a kill to tie the score at 29, but Minnesota committed a service error to give Northern Iowa a second game point. Martin followed with another kill to tie the score at 30. Minnesota got the next to points on Northern Iowa errors to rally for a 32-30 game three victory.
Minnesota outhit Northern Iowa .348 to .204 in the game, and had 22 kills to the Panthers 19. Bratford and Byrnes paced Minnesota in the third game with seven and six kills apiece.
The Golden Gophers took control early in the fourth game by jumping out to a 17-10 lead. Northern Iowa cut the lead to 18-14, but Meredith Nelson (St. Croix Falls, Wis.) put down a kill to make it 19-14. Lisa Reinhart (White Bear Lake, Minn.) followed with a service ace and Bowman had a solo block and kill to make it 22-14. Minnesota moved the lead out to 29-20, before Northern Iowa fought off four match points to make it 29-24. Bowman put down a kill to give Minnesota the match and the Diet Coke Classic title.
"We definitely were tired from the two previous night's matches," said Martin. "However, the coaches pointed out to us before the game that being tired is not an excuse to go out and do anything less then play our hardest in today's match. I think Trisha (Bratford) and myself took it upon ourselves to go out there and put the ball away in the big spots when our team needed us to do so."
Minnesota narrowly outhit Northern Iowa in the match .171 to .167. The Golden Gophers outdug the Panthers 78 to 61, and six service aces to just one for the Northern Iowa. Minnesota has only had one service ace against them in the last two matches (nine games). Northern Iowa to did outblock Minnesota 15.0 to 10.0 on the day.
"What an awesome weekend of volleyball," said Northern Iowa head coach Bobbi Peterson. "There was a lot of great play going on, and I was very pleased with the way our kids played tonight. Obviously the goal is to win the match, but after the match we had yesterday we were happy to see our young team bounce back and play this well against a quality Minnesota team."
Tink had 14 kills and eight digs for the match for Northern Iowa. Danielle Brazda had 10 kills and eight blocks for the Panthers. Shari Vermeer had 12 kills and six digs, while Rowen and Trista Humpal each had 11 kills for the match.
All three of Minnesota's matches in the tournament went over two hours (2:22 vs. Kansas State, 2:39 vs. Florida and 2:01 against Northern Iowa). Four of the six matches in the tournament went two-plus hours, with three of the matches going five games.
Minnesota will be back in action on Friday, Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. (CT) when it plays Rice at the North Carolina Tournament. The Golden Gophers will also play No. 22 Loyola Marymount on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 9 a.m. (CT) and host North Carolina at 6:30 p.m. (CT) on Sept. 18.