GThe seventh-ranked Minnesota volleyball team is within one match of its first Big Ten championship after defeating Iowa, 9-15, 15-13, 15-3, 18-16, on Wednesday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Golden Gophers improve to 17-2 in the Big Ten, 28-2 overall, while Iowa falls to 13-14 overall, 9-10 in the Big Ten.
Nicole Branagh became the Big Ten's all-time leader in kills, smashing a match-high 33 kills, giving her 2,303 for her career. Branagh passes former Gopher All-American Katrien DeDecker, who was the previous record holder with 2,300 kills. She also led Minnesota with 21 digs. Lindsey Berg had a career-high 20 digs, two service aces and 72 assists for the four-game match. Yvonne VanOort added 17 kills and 20 digs, while Charnette Fair had 18 kills at a .500 hitting percentage.
Iowa led from start to finish in the first game. The Hawkeyes scored the first two points of the match and ran off four straight points to take a 9-4 lead. Minnesota rallied with three points off of Berg's serve to pull to within 9-7, but could get no closer. The Gophers were limited to a .123 hitting percentage in the first game, compared to Iowa's .246 hitting percentage.
Minnesota took its first lead in the second game at 4-3 on a Branagh block. Iowa rallied to lead 5-4 and 6-5, but the Golden Gophers scored the next five points to build a 10-6 lead. The Gophers eventually led 13-10, but three consecutive Hawkeye points tied the game, 13-13. Fair tipped a ball into open space for a side out, and an Iowa block error and a kill by VanOort gave Minnesota the second game, 15-13. Branagh and VanOort combined for 13 of Minnesota's 22 kills in the second game.
Iowa held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 to begin the third game, but Minnesota scored 14 of the next 15 points, including the final 10 points to win the third game, 15-3. Berg served the final five points of the game. Berg had two service aces in the third game. The Gophers hit .577 with just one error in the third game.
Iowa had the first surge of the fourth game, jumping out to a 7-2 lead. Minnesota rolled off seven of the next eight points, culminating with a Fair kill, to take a brief 9-8 lead. The Gophers also led 10-9, before Iowa scored four of the next five points to establish a 13-11 advantage. Minnesota scored the next three points, the final one on a solo block by Stephanie Hagen to take a 14-13 lead. The Golden Gophers had two chances to serve for the match at 14-13 and 15-14, but Iowa held off Minnesota and had two game points, leading 16-15. Minnesota forced side outs and scored the final three points of the match to win, 18-16.
The Golden Gophers will conclude the 2000 regular season with a match at No. 17 Ohio State on Saturday at 6 p.m. (CST). A Minnesota win or a Wisconsin loss will guarantee the Golden Gophers a share of their first-ever Big Ten championship in volleyball.
BIG TEN STANDINGS Minnesota 17-2 28-2 Wisconsin 16-2 26-3 Penn State 14-4 25-5 Ohio State 12-6 22-6 Michigan State 9-9 16-11 Iowa 9-10 13-14 Michigan 7-11 17-12 Indiana 6-12 15-13 Illinois 4-14 13-16 Purdue 4-14 12-18 Northwestern 2-16 5-23 Wednesday's Match Minnesota d. Iowa, 3-1 (9-15, 15-13, 15-3, 18-16) Friday's Matches Iowa at Ohio State, 6 Wisconsin at Michigan, 6 Northwestern at Michigan State, 6 Indiana at Purdue, 6 Penn State at Illinois, 7 Saturday's Matches Minnesota at Ohio State, 6 Northwestern at Michigan, 6 Wisconsin at Michigan State, 6 Penn State at Purdue, 6 Indiana at Illinois, 7 END REGULAR SEASON