p.m.The 2000 Minnesota volleyball team (11-0) will attempt to continue its winning ways as it opens Big Ten play this week. The ninth-ranked Golden Gophers host Purdue (8-4) on Friday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m., and Illinois (9-2) on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion. Minnesota has completed the non-conference portion of its schedule undefeated for the first time in school history. The Golden Gophers have their longest winning streak in 22 years and have matched the longest winning streak to begin a season in school history.
And Yes...They Call it "The Streak"
Minnesota is currently enjoying its longest winning streak in the NCAA era of volleyball. This is the third time in the history of Golden Gopher volleyball that Minnesota has won 11 matches in a row, with the other two occuring while Minnesota competed under the AIAW umbrella. In 1974, Minnesota won the first 11 matches of the season, before tying Lakehead University of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Gophers set the school record with 14 consecutive wins from Oct. 27 to Nov. 10, 1978, before losing a match to Minnesota-Duluth. In both of those streaks, some of the matches were best-out-of-three matches, so this is the first-ever streak of 11 best- out-of-five matches in school history.
In the streak, Minnesota has defeated one nationally ranked team (Pacific) and another that was nationally ranked in the preseason (Northern Iowa). The Gophers are 33-2 in games, losing the third game at Georgia Tech and the third game against Seton Hall. Minnesota is a perfect 11-0 in both the first and second games. With the three wins at the Sports Pavilion in the Diet Coke Classic, Minnesota has won its last four matches in its home building.
Minnesota Remains Ninth, Matching Highest-Ever National Ranking
Minnesota is ranked ninth in the Sept. 18 edition of the AVCA/USA Today poll, matching its ranking from the previous poll. The Golden Gophers have increased their point total in every poll, and currently have 1087 poll points. For the first time since Oct. 10, 1989, the Minnesota volleyball team is ranked in the top ten nationally. Minnesota, which finished the 1999 season in the 16th position in the USA Today poll, has only been ranked as high as ninth for two weeks in the program's history before this season. The Gophers were ranked ninth in the NCAA polls of Oct. 3 and Oct. 10, 1989. Minnesota is one of six Big Ten teams in the USA Today poll.
Big Ten Conference Play Begins This Weekend
The 2000 Big Ten volleyball season begins Wednesday with big matches across the conference. In the opening match, No. 17 Michigan State hosts No. 21 Michigan. The two teams split matches in 1999, with the home team winning both matches. Both Michigan schools will play No. 25 Ohio State this weekend. The Buckeyes join Minnesota as the conference's two unbeaten teams entering Big Ten play. Third-ranked Penn State takes its 49-match Big Ten winning streak to No. 14 Wisconsin on Friday. Nine of the conference's teams 11 teams have won at least two- thirds of their matches, as the Big Ten has compiled a non-conference record of 89-22 (.802).
Minnesota Extends Winning Streak to 11 Matches
Minnesota won four matches last week to improve its season record to 11-0. The Golden Gophers began the week with a three-game win against Northern Iowa at Rochester, Minn., avenging a loss to the Panthers from the 1999 season. Minnesota opened its 13-match regular season at the Sports Pavilion and the Diet Coke Classic by sweeping Tennessee in three games. The Golden Gophers completed the weekend with two wins on Saturday, defeating Seton Hall in four games and Akron in three games. Junior setter Lindsey Berg (Honolulu, Hawaii/ Punahou) was named the most valuable player of the Diet Coke Classic. It is the third time in her career and the second time in as many weeks Berg has been named most valuable player in a non-conference tournament, adding to her 1999 Diet Coke Classic and her 2000 Georgia Tech Classic MVP awards. Senior middle blocker Charnette Fair (Huntington Beach, Calif./Montclair) and senior outside hitter Nicole Branagh (Orinda, Calif./Miramonte) were named to their second all-tournament teams of the season. Branagh was the MVP of the Silver Legacy/Ray Wersching Invitational, while Fair was named to the Georgia Tech Classic All-Tournament team.
Senior outside hitter Nicole Branagh continued her climb up the Big Ten all-time kill leader chart last week. She moved past Terri Zemaitis of Penn State during the Northern Iowa match and currently stands seventh among all-time Big Ten players with 1,887 career kills. Branagh is likely to pass Chris Schaefer into third on the Minnesota list and sixth on the Big Ten list during Minnesota's weekend homestand at the Sports Pavilion.
Big Ten Conference All-Time Kill Leaders 1.Katrien DeDecker (Minnesota) 1993-96 2,300 2.Jenna Wrobel (Michigan State) 1995-98 2,292 3.Andrea Gonzalez (Minnesota) 1985-88 2,140 4.Debbie McDonald (Purdue) 1986-89 2,108 5.Veronica Morales (Mich. St.) 1994-97 2,006 6.Chris Schaefer (Minnesota) 1986-89 1,896 7.Nicole Branagh (Minnesota) 1997-2000 1,887 Branagh's .359 hitting percentage this season is significantly better than her .264 hitting percentage in her first three years. She has 89 digs this season, giving her 909 for her career, which is 25 shy of Minnesota's career top ten list. Branagh has never missed a match in her 111-match Minnesota career.
Berg Comes Up All Aces
Junior Lindsey Berg was the first player ever to lead the Big Ten in service aces for two consecutive years and is on her way to do it for the third year in a row. She has 23 aces in 33 games this season, an average of 0.70 aces per game. Berg's career average entering the season was 0.58 service aces per game. She has 154 career service aces, as she passed former Gopher Emily Ahlquist into seventh place on Minnesota's career list against Tennessee.
Hagen Continues Hot Play
Junior Stephanie Hagen (Minnetonka, Minn./Hopkins) continues to give Minnesota a legitimate middle attack. She is second on the team with 66 kills, including four matches of 10 or more kills. Hagen leads the Minnesota regulars with a .433 hitting percentage, and continues to be the Golden Gophers' all-time leader with a .348 career hitting percentage. Hagen leads Minnesota with 47 blocks and has a 1.57 blocks per game average. She has 53 digs this season, compared to 40 for the entire 1999 season.
Minnesota's team defense is a big factor in the team's 11-0 start. In 1999, the Gophers lowered the opposition's hitting percentage to .155, 81 points lower than the 1998 average. This season, the opponent hitting percentage is at .121, an improvement of 34 points below the 1999 average. In nine of the 35 games this season, the opponent has more errors than kills for a negative hitting percentage.
Purdue (8-4) had a tough weekend in Washington, D.C., losing three four-game matches to American, North Carolina State and George Washington. The Boilermakers' other loss was a home loss to Kansas in four games. Purdue's leading hitters are Joanna Lowry (.277, 3.61 kills/game) and Julie Doud (.213, 4.41 kills/game). Minnesota swept the season series against Purdue in 1999.
Illinois (9-2) won the State Farm Illini Classic last weekend, defeating New Hampshire in four games and Ball State in five games. Illinois' two losses this season were a three-game defeat at Florida State and a five-game setback at Loyola (Chicago). Senior middle blocker Betsy Spicer was the MVP of the State Farm Illini Classic with 44 kills at a .530 hitting percentage in the two matches.
Up Next for the Gophers
Minnesota plays its first matches on the road in the 2000 Big Ten season. The Golden Gophers play at third- ranked Penn State on Friday, Sept. 28, at 6:30 p.m. and at Indiana on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. Minnesota was 7-3 in Big Ten road matches last season, but two of the three losses occured at Penn State and at Indiana.