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Sept. 22, 2011
The No. 9 University of Minnesota volleyball program opens the Big Ten Conference season at home, this weekend. Minnesota hosts No. 3 Illinois on Friday at 7 p.m., while Northwestern is Sunday, at 1 p.m. Both matches will be played in the Sports Pavilion.
Minnesota has won five-straight Big Ten openers and in the last decade has gone 8-2. This year's match, however, marks the first time in 11 years the Gophers have faced Illinois to kick off the Big Ten season. The Gophers defeated Michigan State last year in the Big Ten opener, Wisconsin in 2009, Northwestern in 2008 and 2006 and Purdue in 2005.
On Nov. 20, 2010, the Gophers earned a five-set defeat over the Illini, 25-22, 18-25, 23-25, 26-24, 15-9 at Huff Hall in Champaign, Ill. With the win, the Gophers snapped a 22-match Illinois home winning streak. The last time, however, Illinois visited the Sports Pavilion, the Illini won in five sets (25-23, 6-25, 29-31, 25-15, 15-9) on Oct. 22, 2010.
The last time Minnesota and Northwestern faced each other was at the Sports Pavilion on Oct. 29 last year. The Gophers, who were ranked 20th at the time, defeated Northwestern (ranked 24th at the time) in four sets by scores of 25-17, 25-23, 16-25, 25-18. Minnesota also faced the Wildcats in Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 10, 2001 and fell in four by scores of 20-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-21 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Illinois is one of three teams in the Big Ten yet to lose a match this season, sitting at 11-0 overall. Having won five matches at home, the Illini hold a 2-0 away record and a 4-0 neutral site record. Illinois is ranked No. 3 in the AVCA poll, trailing only No. 1 California and No. 2 Stanford. In their matches, the Illini have had three five-set matches this season against No. 21 Dayton (Sept. 3), Tulsa (Sept. 10) and Louisville (Sept. 17) as it closed out the non-conference schedule. Picked to finish second in the preseason Big Ten poll, Illinois is led by head coach Kevin Hambly, who guided the team to a NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance the last two years. The Illini are led by Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward, who were voted Preseason All-Big Ten. Both returning All-Americans, Bartsch leads the team with 174 kills (4.05 kps). Ward follows right behind her with 150 kills (3.49).
Northwestern enters Big Ten Conference competition with a 9-2 record, including four-straight wins. After dropping the first two contests against Central Arkansas and Ole Miss, the Wildcats have defeated Arkansas-Little Rock, Duquesne, Duquesne and New Mexico State. Northwestern is coached by Keylor Chan, now in his 12th season. The Wildcats are led by Stephanie Holthus, who was a All-Big Ten Preseason honoree. In 37 sets, Holthus leads the team with 187 kills, averaging 5.05 per set. Katie Dutchman leads the team with 1.30 blocks per set, while Madalyn Shalter has 422 assists.
Golden Gopher coach Laura Bush played volleyball at Illinois. Bush was a four-year letter at Illinois from 1987 to 1990 where she played for then-Illinois coach, Mike Hebert. During her career, Illinois had a 109-31 overall record, won two Big Ten titles (1987 & 88) and advanced to back-to-back Final Fours. She was named All-Big Ten and was a Second-Team All-American in 1989, and was also the University of Illinois Female Athlete of the Year in 1990.
The M Club Hall of Fame will honor its 2011 class as eight members will be inducted at the Ted Mann Concert Hall Thursday. Included in that eight is former Gopher coaching great Mike Hebert. The most successful volleyball coach in school history, Hebert led the Golden Gophers to three NCAA Final Fours and recently finishing his career at the University of Minnesota with a 381-125 record. Also inducted was baseball's Joe Pollack and Robb Quinlan, football's Ben Hamilton and Urban Odson, wrestling's John Whitaker and Garth Lappin and men's hockey's Mike Crowley. Fans have a chance to meet some of the members of the Hall of Fame Class in the clubroom starting at 6 p.m., Friday while Hebert and the attending class members will be introduced in between the second and third sets against Illinois.