The No. 12 Minnesota volleyball team has plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves following their weekend road trip to Michigan and Michigan State, but it certainly didn't appear that way at first.
The Gophers lost to No. 14 Michigan on Friday night in three hard-fought sets by scores of 25-23, 25-14 and 27-25.
Things seemed to be going from bad to worse for Minnesota on Saturday as they found themselves trailing 2-0 against Michigan State.
Then, following the intermission, the Gophers came out looking like a brand new team. Their offense sparked to life, and more importantly, the Gophers found themselves able to finish out sets, as they rallied to beat Michigan State in five sets by scores of 23-25, 21-25, 25-20, 25-19 and 15-12.
The win also marked the first time Minnesota had come back to win a match after a 2-0 deficit since Nov. 23, 2007 when they beat Illinois.
“It [beating Michigan State] was very important on different levels,” Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said. “Number one, it keeps us high on the charts when it comes to NCAA selections. Second, it was important for our team to climb out of that kind of hole on the road and know that they can do it. It was a very impressive comeback.”
The win over Michigan State helped Minnesota maintain a one-game lead over Michigan for third place in the Big Ten — a large factor for seeding for the NCAA tournament.
Beating the Spartans not only provided a boost in the standings but also gave the Gophers a late-season victory the entire team can rally around.
“For our team and our moral and everything, to come back and win is just amazing.” junior Hailey Cowles said. “The emotion level that we needed to come back was huge. Everyone played a part in coming back, which is really good for the team.”
The Gophers played Michigan tough all match, even taking 5-point leads in both the first and third set, but Minnesota was unable to close out the sets, as Michigan (24-7 overall, 12-6 Big Ten) overall played solidly all match long. The lone highlight against the Wolverines was junior Lauren Gibbemeyer , who finished with 10 kills and four blocks.
The Michigan State match offered a few more bright spots. Cowles had a game-high 17 kills to go along with nine digs and three blocks . Gibbemeyer had another great game, hitting 15 kills and collecting 10 blocks.
The Minnesota freshmen also stepped up against Michigan State (17-13, 5-13) to provide an offensive spark. Tabitha Love finished the game with 11 kills, and Katherine Harms had eight kills on a team-high 0.571 hitting percentage.
Hitting percentage tells the biggest difference between the two matches for Minnesota (22-8, 13-5 ). Defensively, they gave up very similar percentages to both Michigan and Michigan State, 0.269 and 0.278, respectively. However, the Gophers hit only 0.168 in their loss to the Wolverines but hit 0.363 in their win over the Spartans.
Including their wins from the previous weekend over Iowa and Wisconsin, the Gophers finished their longest road trip of the season 3-1. That gives Minnesota a 6-4 final record on the road in the Big Ten this season.
The Gophers finish up the regular season next weekend as they host Northwestern on Friday and No. 5 Illinois on Saturday. Both matches will be at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion.
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