Gophers Host Michigan State Wednesday Night
Katherine Harms and the Gophers host Michigan State Wednesday

Nov. 9, 2011

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The No. 16 University of Minnesota volleyball program hosts Michigan State on Wednesday night at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers and Spartans play at 7 p.m., and will be shown live on the Big Ten Network. Following the Wednesday MSU match, Minnesota hosts No. 24 Michigan on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Minnesota will compete in two road conference matches next week. The Golden Gophers travel to Nebraska on Nov. 16 for their second Wednesday night match. The showdown against the Cornhuskers starts at 7 p.m. and will be shown live on the Big Ten Network. On Saturday, Nov. 19, the Gophers then go to Iowa City, Iowa and play the Hawkeyes a 7 p.m.

The Minnesota/Michigan State match will be televised live on the Big Ten Network. Fans can also follow along through the free audio option as well as the live chat on

Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman has been named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week, announced Monday by the Big Ten Conference. She shares the award with Purdue sophomore Ariel Turner. It marks the second time this season Wittman has been awarded the honor and the third weekly conference honor for the Gophers this season. Although the Gophers fell to No. 6 Penn State, Wittman posted a career-high 31 kills on Friday night. Of the 31, 12 kills came in the fourth set, forcing a deciding fifth set. She also had the match's second-highest 19 digs. In the loss, she led all attackers in kills and hit .393 with 61 attempts. She followed up with 21 kills in the win against Ohio State Saturday, again for a match high mark. The Shakopee, Minn., native also added her 14th double double of the season when she had 12 digs. On the weekend, Wittman hit .352, had 52 kills in 108 attempts, four assists, three aces and 31 digs.

Freshman Kellie McNeil started in both matches last weekend against Penn State and Ohio State. The two matches marked four career starts and the 10th and 11th time she's seen action this season. McNeil has played now at both the setter and outside hitter, a position she played earlier this year.

The Golden Gophers have had their fair share of three and five-set matches this season. Minnesota enters the weekend playing in 23 matches this season, 10 of which have gone to five sets. The Gophers hold a 5-5 record in five-set matches, are 7-3 in three-set matches and 2-1 in four-set matches. The 10 five-set contests ranks the highest in the Big Ten, while the next closest are Illinois and Nebraska each with six. The Illini holds a 6-0 record and Nebraska is at 5-1. Minnesota has also played in 10 three-set matches this season, including two weeks ago against Northwestern (loss) and Illinois (win).

The Gophers enter the week playing in 10 five-set matches. Along with it being the most five-set matches in the Big Ten this season, it also ranks high in the Gopher history section. Minnesota played in 11 five-set matches in 1985. The 10 this season is the most since 1989, which also was 10 as well as 10 in 1987.

In the last three matches, the Golden Gophers have recorded 20 aces. After tallying three against Northwestern (10/28), Minnesota tied a then-season high seven aces in the win against Illinois (10/29) and followed up with another eight in the Penn State contest (11/4), setting a season-best mark. In the win over Ohio State (11/5), the Gophers added another five aces. Of the 20 aces in that span, Tori Dixon has tallied eight of them, followed by Hailey Cowles with five and Ashley Wittman with four.

The MSU Spartans enter the Minnesota match with an 18-8 overall record and a 7-7 Big Ten Conference mark. Last weekend, MSU swept Iowa in three sets (25-18, 25-12, 25-21) and fell in straight sets to Nebraska (25-11, 25-18, 25-23). MSU holds the fourth-best hitting percentage in conference matches at .230, and in overall matches a conference-best .277 clip. Jenilee Rathje leads the offensive charge for the Spartans, averaging 4.48 kills per set. Kyndra Abron has 307 kills on the season (3.37 kps) and Alexis Mathews also has triple-digit kills (175) and a .362 hitting percentage.

Minnesota holds a 46-16 mark all-time against the Spartans, dating back to 1976. The Gophers currently hold a seven-game win streak over MSU following a 3-0 loss on Oct. 20, 2007. Minnesota defeated MSU in October in straight sets.

Minnesota defeated the Spartans in straight sets in the last meeting between the two teams, Oct. 8 in East Lansing, Mich. Minnesota had 15 kills from both Ashley Wittman and Katherine Harms, while Tori Dixon had 12 kills and hit .417 (12-2-24). Minnesota held a .308 team hitting percentage and eight team blocks, while MSU hit .211 and had four team blocks.

Entering the week, three teams are locked at 7-7 conference records in Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Spartans hold the best overall record of the three (18-8). Nebraska leads the Big Ten with an 13-1 record, while Illinois, Penn State and Purdue are tied for second at 11-3.




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