The Gophers volleyball team took a perfect record into the Diet Coke Classic this weekend, but didn’t leave with one.
After sweeping Denver, Stony Brook and Marquette in the Golden Gopher Invite last weekend, the eighth-ranked Gophers won two out of three games at the Sports Pavilion, beating Baylor and Dayton while losing to No. 22 Northern Iowa.
The Gophers improved to 4-0 Friday with a four-set win over Baylor, 25-16, 25-19, 20-25, 25-22.
But their perfect record didn’t last long as the Gophers got off to a slow start against No. 22 Northern Iowa on Saturday, with the Panthers taking the first set in a dominating 25-16 victory.
Minnesota took the next two sets, but the Panthers took the fourth, 25-23, despite back-to-back kills by sophomore Tabitha Love and freshman Ashley Wittman, as well as a service ace from junior Stephanie Nucci.
“We didn’t really execute the game plan as well as we wanted to,” senior Lauren Gibbemeyer said.
During the fifth set, the Gophers took an 8-4 lead on an attack error by Northern Iowa’s Bre Payton. However, the Panthers rallied to take the next five of six points to tie the match at nine.
The Panthers pushed the game to match point, where the Gophers were able to hold them until Amy Braun released a kill that finally gave Northern Iowa the five-set victory.
Despite the loss, many of the Gophers put up impressive numbers, including Love, Wittman and junior Jessica Granquist.
All had career-high games: Love with 23 kills, Wittman with 21 digs, and Granquist with 33 digs. Gibbemeyer also had 13 kills and eight blocks for the Gophers.
“Offensively, we’re very powerful and very strong there,” Gibbemeyer said. “Jess Granquist came out and did a great job defensively so we have that going for us as well. But, I would definitely say our offense really came out to play this weekend.”
After losing to Northern Iowa, the Gophers finished off their Saturday by sweeping No. 20 Dayton in three sets — 25-20, 25-13, 25-13.
With just seven hours between the two matches, head coach Mike Hebert said he was impressed at how fast the Gophers recovered, something many teams struggle with.
“Despite the loss, I think what it teaches the team is that you need to be able to play in a variety of different circumstances,” he said. “Right now, I’m just real happy with how they performed.”
While Minnesota, Northern Iowa and Dayton all ended the tournament 2-1, Minnesota was considered the winner because it won the most sets — 10 to 8 to 6, respectively.
Gibbemeyer said the home tournament was a good chance for the Gophers to see what their team has.
“It was really cool how we came together and just let that bad match kind of roll off our backs,” Gibbemeyer said. “We just needed to focus on the game plan.”
Three Gophers — Gibbemeyer, Granquist and Love — were named to the All-Tournament Team and Gibbemeyer also earned Most Outstanding Player for her performance.
Minnesota wasn’t the only top-10 team upset this weekend, as No. 5 Illinois swept No. 2 Texas in a three game series.
After two successful tournaments at home, the Gophers head to North Carolina for the Duke Invitational next weekend, where they’ll play North Carolina Central, Delaware and Duke, all of whom are unranked.
“I think we’re ready to hit the road and see what else is out there,” Gibbemeyer said.
With a returning group fresh off a NCAA Final Four berth and a freshman class featuring the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Shakopee’s Ashley Wittman, Love said she’s excited for the season and expects the Gophers to be strong contenders in the Big Ten.
“We are all trying to model championship behaviors all the time,” Love said. “We have that one goal of being national champions.”