The 12th-ranked Minnesota volleyball team (10-2) will open up Big Ten play at home this week against Northwestern and No. 18 Wisconsin. The Golden Gophers will face the Wildcats on Friday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. and the Badgers on Saturday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. Both matches can be heard live on the gophersports.com.
Minnesota enters Big Ten play with a 10-2 overall record, after winning the Gopher Invitational with a 2-1 mark. The Golden Gophers defeated TCU (3-1) and Winthrop (3-0), but lost to North Carolina (3-2). Minnesota was picked to finish second in the Preseason Coaches poll, after a 2007 season that saw the Golden Gophers tie for third at 11-9. In eight of the last nine years, Minnesota has finished third or higher in Big Ten play.
“It is always fun when the Big Ten season starts,” said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. “The first two weeks every team always has high expectations, and they come out playing hard. It is a time for every team to put their best foot forward and see what they have. It takes about three to four weeks before a pecking order starts to become established in the conference, and things begin to take shape. We feel like we have prepared ourselves to be successful in Big Ten play with a very difficult pre-conference schedule. Hopefully that will help us start strong, and be one of the top echelon teams in the conference.”
The Golden Gophers are hitting .241 as a team, and limiting opponents to a .132 hitting percentage. They are also more then doubling the opponent’s block total with 127.5, compared to 57.0 for their opposition. Entering conference play, Minnesota leads the Big Ten in digs (17.98 dps) and blocks (2.87 blps).
Sophomore Lauren Gibbemeyer claimed MVP honors in both the Diet Coke Classic and Gopher Invitational. She is averaging 3.30 kps 1.44 blps and is hitting .347 on the year. Brook Dieter (Bloomington, Minn.) is averaging 3.20 kps, 1.08 dps and 0.65 blps. Senior Kyla Roehrig (Papillion, Neb.) is averaging 2.98 kps and 0.64 blps.
Junior Christine Tan (Safety Harbor, Fla.) is coming off a week where she was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this year. Tan leads the Big Ten in digs with 5.35 dps and has 0.56 saps.
Senior setter Rachel Hartmann (St. Charles, Ill.) has 10.83 aps, 2.20 dps and 0.73 blps. Sophomore Hailey Cowles (Eden Prairie, Minn.) leads the team with 13 service aces, and is averaging 2.65 dps, while freshman Jessica Granquist (Blaine, Minn.) is second with 2.77 dps.
“I think the key to any of the 11 teams succeeding in Big Ten play is consistency and health,” said Hebert. “If we can stay healthy and continue to play at the level I know we are capable of playing at, I like our chances to finish in the top third on the Big Ten,”
Northwestern enters the week with a 6-5 overall record. Last year, the Wildcats finished seventh in the Big Ten at 9-11. Northwestern was picked to finish seventh in this year’s coaches poll. The Wildcats are lead by Chelsy Hyser who is averaging 3.05 kps and 0.60 blps. Sabel Moffett has 2.84 kps and 1.14 blps. Brittani Gray is averaging 2.80 kps, 0.88 dps and 0.47 blps. Kate Nobilio is second in the Big Ten in digs at 5.16 dps, while Alexandra Ayers has 10.14 aps and 1.98 dps.
Wisconsin has a 10-2 overall record in 2008. Last year, the Badgers finished in second place at 17-3 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin was picked to finish third this year in the preseason coaches poll. Brittney Dolgner leads the team with 3.42 kps, 1.94 dps and 0.60 blps. Katherine Dykstra has 2.74 kps and 0.86 blps, while Audra Jeffers has 2.45 kps and 1.20 blps. Kim Kuzma leads the team with 4.09 dps.
The Minnesota-Wisconsin contest will kick off the 2008-09 Border Battle, which is in its fourth year of existence.
“It always a lot of fun when we play Wisconsin,” said Hebert. “Whether we play at Madison or in the Sports Pavilion there is always great energy in the building. Both sides are very passionate supporters of their respective programs. Lately it has been back and forth. We won both matchups in 2006, but Wisconsin got the better of us when they swept both meetings in 2007. We have not forgotten the matchups from last year, and we are excited to face the Badgers and put forth a much better showing this year.”