Gophers Begin Big Ten Season This Weekend Against Illinois and Northwestern

Go Gophers!
Daly Santana

Go Gophers!
Daly Santana
Go Gophers!
Logo   Minnesota at Illinois / Northwestern
Friday, Sept. 21 Minnesota at Illinois | 7 p.m.
Location Champaign, Ill.
Television BTN
Live Blog Game Day Live
Live Stats Gametracker
   
Sunday, Sept. 23 Minnesota at Northwestern | 1 p.m.
Location Evanston, Ill.
Live Blog Game Day Live
Live Stats Gametracker
   
Game Notes Minnesota | Illinois | Northwestern
Season Statistics Minnesota | Illinois | Northwestern
Social Media Facebook | @GopherVball

Sept. 19, 2012

Minnesota opens the Big Ten Conference season this weekend as it travels to Illinois and Northwestern, Friday and Sunday. Friday’s match is set for a 7 p.m. start, while Sunday’s tilt is a 1 p.m. match. The 2012 season marks the second-straight year the Gophers will open the conference season against the Illini and Wildcats.
 
The Big Ten opener between Minnesota and Illinois will be televised live on the Big Ten Network Friday. Both Gopher matches will feature an in-game chat and live statistics on gophersports.com.

Following three weekends on the road, Minnesota hosts Ohio State on Sept. 28 and Penn State Sept 29 at the Sports Pavilion. Both matches are set for 7 p.m. and the OSU match will be shown live on the Big Ten Network. Minnesota will also be home Wednesday, Oct. 3 and Saturday, Oct. 6 against Michigan and Michigan State.

Illinois was the NCAA runner-up last season, making it to the 2011 Final Four. The Illini lost All-American Colleen Ward and Michelle Bartsch, both outside hitters from last year’s Final Four team. Illinois is coming off wins over Texas, Central Florida and Cincinnati to finish 6-4 in non-conference. After dropping matches against Dayton and Pepperdine to start the season, the Illini split action against Iowa State and lost to Louisville. Led by redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks, she was named the Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Week for her performance against the Longhorns. Posting double doubles in all three matches, she averaged 5.0 kills per set and was the tournament’s most valuable player. Sophomore middle blocker Anna Dorn leads the team with a .451 hitting percentage and averages 1.31 blocks per set. Senior Annie Luhrsen is the Illini’s starting setter, with 10.64 assists per set, while junior libero Jennifer Beltran leads the team with 154 digs for 3.95 dig per set.

Northwestern did not drop a match in non-conference play, finishing 11-0. Last weekend, the Wildcats hosted Delaware, St. Louis and Western Michigan, winning 3-0, 3-0 and 3-1. Junior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus was a 2011 All-Big Ten selection and leads the 2012 team in kills per set (4.20), kills (168) and points per set (4.84). Sophomore middle blocker Katie Dutchman was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team last season after averaging 1.29 blocks per set. This season, Dutchman has a .458 hitting percentage, averages 2.75 kills per set and 1.02 blocks per set. Senior setter Madalyn Shalter leads the Big Ten in assists per set (11.93), the team in digs (3.55 ps) and has eight double doubles this season.  

Minnesota holds a 29-38-1 all time record against Illinois. The Gophers fell against the Illini in the Big Ten Conference opener last season in five sets. Minnesota was ranked No. 9 last year, while Illinois was three. The Gophers fell by scores of 25-20, 18-25, 22-25, 25-20 and 10-15. Minnesota’s last competition against the Illini, however, the Gophers defeated them, 3-0 in Champaign, Ill. With the win, the Golden Gophers defeated their highest-ranked opponent ever as the Illini was ranked third in the nation. Minnesota holds a 47-18 all-time record against Northwestern as the two teams split action last year. Minnesota defeated the Wildcats at home and earned its first Big Ten win last season in four at the Pavilion. The Gophers, however, fell to NW in Evanston, Ill., in three.

Minnesota played three tough teams in Dayton, Kansas State and Tulsa in the Golden Hurricane Classic last weekend. The Gophers earned a 3-0 win over the Flyers in the 10 a.m. morning session. Minnesota would then take Kansas State to five and drop its first five-set match of the season to the KSU in the afternoon session. It was the first time this year the Gophers played two ranked opponents on the same day as Dayton was ranked 20 and Kansas State was ranked 19th. Minnesota rebounded and earned a 3-0 win over host Tulsa on Saturday to conclude the tournament. Katherine Harms and Alexandra Palmer were both named to the All-Tournament Team. Harms finished the tournament with 47 kills and 38 digs, while hitting .357. Palmer had 87 assists in the tournament, three aces and 20 digs.

Illinois spoiled Minnesota’s record of Big Ten Conference openers last year when it lost to the Illini in five. Prior to the Illinois loss in 2011, Minnesota won five-straight Big Ten openers and in the last decade has gone 7-3. The Gophers defeated Michigan State in the Big Ten opener in 2010, Wisconsin in 2009, Northwestern in 2008 and 2006 and Purdue in 2005.