9The seventh-ranked Minnesota volleyball team (21-2, 10-2 Big Ten) returns to the Sports Pavilion this week to host Indiana (13-9, 4-8) on Friday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m., and 11th-ranked Penn State (20-4, 9-3) on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. Minnesota enters the week in a tie for second place in the Big Ten standings with Ohio State, one match behind Wisconsin. The Gophers have their best-ever record after 23 matches and are on pace to set a school record for winning percentage. Nicole Branagh (Orinda, Calif./Miramonte) needs 27 kills to surpass former Gopher Andrea Gonzalez for second place on the all-time Minnesota list.
Minnesota Volleyball is On The Air
Both matches will be broadcast on radio and television this weekend. The radio coverage will be live each night, beginning at 6:50 p.m. on WDGY AM-630, with Tom Witschen and Linda Shudlick on the call. Midwest Sports Channel will tape-delay the Indiana match for broadcast Friday at 9:30 p.m., with Anthony LaPanta and Sarah Pearman behind the microphones. ESPN2 will have a tape-delayed broadcast of the Penn State match on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at noon, with Jack Edwards and Heather Cox providing commentary.
Minnesota Holds No. 7 National Ranking in AVCA/USA Today Poll
Minnesota is ranked seventh in the Oct. 30 edition of the AVCA/USA Today poll for the third consecutive week. In the Oct. 2 poll, the Golden Gophers were listed fifth, their highest ranking in school history. Minnesota has 1104 poll points, down from last week's 1156 poll points and its school-record total of 1269 poll points in the Oct. 2 poll. Minnesota is one of five Big Ten teams in the USA Today poll. The others are No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 11 Penn State, No. 13 Ohio State and No. 22 Michigan State.
Wisconsin Takes Conference Lead; Minnesota and Ohio State One Back
Wisconsin's win over Minnesota on Saturday gave the Badgers sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings. The Badgers have won eight in a row since their lone conference loss to Ohio State, who is tied with Minnesota for second place. Penn State has the conference's longest winning streak of nine matches and is two matches behind Wisconsin. This week's key matches feature a Saturday match between Penn State and Minnesota at the Sports Pavilion and a Sunday match in Columbus pitting Wisconsin against Ohio State. Since the Big Ten went to the current double round-robin format in 1985, the conference champion has never had more than two losses in the conference season.
A Record-Setting Season in Progress
Minnesota is on pace to set school records in winning percentage in both overall and Big Ten matches for a season. The Gophers' current .913 winning percentage is above the overall school record of .832 set in 1974 and the NCAA-era record of .763 set in 1989. Minnesota is over the 20-win plateau for the seventh time in the last nine seasons and has reached 20 wins faster than any team in school history. The Gophers finished 9-1 in the first half of the Big Ten season for the first time and are chasing the 15-5 Big Ten mark posted by last year's squad.
Minnesota Takes Road Split, Now 5-1 on Big Ten Road
Minnesota began last week with a 9-15, 15-9, 15-9, 15-6 win over Northwestern on Friday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Nicole Branagh led Minnesota with 22 kills while Stephanie Hagen (Minnetonka, Minn./ Hopkins) added 20 kills at a .517 hitting percentage and led the Gophers with six blocks. Minnesota saw a six-match winning streak come to an end with a 15-12, 15-4, 12-15, 15-10 loss at then-No. 6 Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Fieldhouse. Jenny Maastricht had a career-high 37 kills for Wisconsin, who outdug the Gophers, 118-73.
Branagh Continues Climb Up Big Ten List
Senior outside hitter Nicole Branagh surpassed the 2,000-kill milestone Oct. 11 against Iowa and moved into fourth place on the all-time Big Ten list Saturday at Wisconsin. She has accumulated double-figure kills in 62 consecutive Big Ten matches. Branagh needs 27 kills to pass Andrea Gonzalez for second place on the all-time Minnesota list and third on the all-time Big Ten list.
Branagh leads Minnesota with 5.09 kills per game overall and 5.29 kills per game in Big Ten play. In last week's stats, she led the Big Ten and was 17th nationally in kills per game. Branagh's .285 hitting percentage this season is better than her .264 hitting percentage in her first three years. She has 245 digs this season, giving her 1,065 for her career, good for sixth on Minnesota's career list. Branagh has never missed a match in her 123-match Minnesota career.
Hagen Leads Big Ten in Hitting Percentage, Blocks
Junior middle blocker Stephanie Hagen continues to lead the Big Ten in two statistical categories. Hagen leads Minnesota with a .420 hitting percentage overall and a .414 hitting percentage in conference play. In last week's stats, she led the Big Ten and was fourth nationally in hitting percentage. She continues to be the Golden Gophers' all-time leader with a .366 career hitting percentage. Hagen leads the Golden Gophers with a 1.58 blocks per game average overall and a 1.60 blocks per game average in Big Ten play. Last week, she led the Big Ten and was eighth nationally in blocks per game.
Berg Continues to Lead Big Ten in Service Aces
Junior Lindsey Berg (Honolulu, Hawaii/Punahou) was the first player ever to lead the Big Ten in service aces for two consecutive years and has a chance to do it for the third year in a row. She has 46 aces in 75 games this season, an average of 0.61 aces per game, including a season-high six aces against Michigan State on Oct. 20. Berg led the Big Ten and was eighth nationally in aces per game last week. She has 177 career service aces, good for seventh place on Minnesota's career list. Berg is among the Big Ten leaders with 13.79 assists per game. She was second in the Big Ten and 19th nationally in assists per game last week.
Minnesota set a school record for blocks in 1999, averaging 3.22 blocks per game. The Golden Gophers have had brilliant blocking numbers in the last three weeks, averaging 4.17 blocks per game in their last six matches. Minnesota moved its season blocking average up to 3.22 blocks per game and 3.67 blocks per game in Big Ten matches. Last week, the Golden Gophers ranked first in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in blocks per game.
Minnesota's offense continues to lead the Big Ten in hitting percentage. The Gophers are hitting .285 for the season, ahead of last year's average and the school record for hitting percentage. Minnesota hit .261 as a team in 1999, the second-best percentage in school history. The Golden Gopher record for a season is .270, set by the 1996 team. Minnesota was eighth nationally in team hitting percentage last week.
Indiana (13-9, 4-8) moved into seventh place in the Big Ten with a four-game win over Michigan on Saturday in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have home wins over Illinois and Purdue and a road win at Northwestern this season. Senior Amanda Welter leads the Hoosiers with 3.88 kills per game and a .342 hitting percentage. Minnesota defeated Indiana 15- 9, 15-12, 15-8 in Bloomington on Sept. 30, and will try to sweep the series for the first time since 1997.
11th-ranked Penn State (20-4, 9-3) has won nine consecutive matches since its 0-3 Big Ten start. The Nittany Lions own losses at Wisconsin, at Northwestern and at home against Minnesota. Sophomore Mishka Levy leads Penn State with 4.41 kills per game and a .314 hitting percentage. Penn State's last loss came at the hands of Minnesota on Sept. 29 at University Park, 13-15, 15-12, 15-12, 15-11. Minnesota has never swept a season series from Penn State.
Up Next for the Gophers
Minnesota goes back to the road to play at Illinois on Friday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. and Purdue on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 6 p.m. There are no broadcasts scheduled for either match.