Minnesota has outmatched its opponents offensively over the last three matches with kill after kill after kill. The Gophers boasted a .333 hitting percentage and 13.58 kills per set in wins over Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana. And with seven players on the roster averaging more than one kill per set, Minnesota has a plethora of ways to score. “It’s nice to have lots of ways you can kill the ball,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “It makes it tough on the opponents when they are setting up their defense.”
Ashley Wittman has dominated the sport of volleyball since she stepped on the court as a fifth grader. Over the course of her career, she’s garnered enough awards to measure up to the best college athletes. In high school, Wittman won three state championships, earned a spot on the all-state roster three years in a row and earned the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year title as a senior. In college, she has garnered All-Big Ten and All-America accolades.
On Friday and Saturday night, the Gophers volleyball team traveled to two separate schools in Indiana and knocked off both opponents. With six other Big Ten teams ranked in the top 20 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll and five of those on the Gophers’ schedule for the last eight games of the conference season, the road wins were crucial. “Any win on the road in the Big Ten is really awesome,” junior outside hitter Adrianna Nora said. “And getting two in a row definitely helps out our confidence.”
Entering matchups with Iowa over the weekend, the Gophers men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams had a combined 5-1 record. Both teams continued their hot starts to the season against the Hawkeyes. The men’s team won 174-126, and the women’s team won 194-101. Senior co-captain Luke Bushman turned in a solid performance for the men’s team, winning both the 200-meter backstroke and the 400-meter individual medley.
For the second straight year, a talented setter has transferred to the Gophers. It was senior Alexandra Palmer last year. This year, it’s Sydney Howard. The sophomore came to Minnesota after playing in 29 matches and 116 sets for South Dakota State last season. “I picked Minnesota [because] I loved the atmosphere here and being in the city life,” Howard said. “I just wanted a bigger school, [and] the coaching and the team fit well.”
Following a tough road loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday, the Gophers volleyball team returned home Sunday to beat Northwestern, keeping its home record unblemished in the process. Minnesota dominated every aspect of the match, boasting 17 team blocks, digging 80 balls and combining for a .291 percent hitting percentage.
No. 7 Minnesota entered the match against Wisconsin on a streak of three impressive victories — two over ranked opponents. That streak came to an abrupt halt Wednesday night as the rival Badgers beat the Gophers in four sets in Madison, Wis. With the victory, Wisconsin moved into a deadlock with the Gophers at third in the Big Ten standings. “Anything can happen on any given night, and tonight was Wisconsin’s night on the court,” senior setter Alexandra Palmer said after the match. “We’ll get them next time.”
Cheerleaders, second stringers and backups are all terms to describe bench players. But on the Gophers volleyball team, the preferred label is “important.” A main factor for Minnesota’s 18-3 record and second-place standing in the Big Ten has been the play off its bench — a core group of players head coach Hugh McCutcheon said he’s fortunate to have on his roster.
After three days and two victories, the Gophers volleyball team stands to rank a lot higher in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll this week. Minnesota faced two tough opponents this weekend in No. 5 Michigan State and No. 16 Michigan. In both matches, the Gophers came back from tight spots to pull out the win. Undefeated in conference play, Michigan State rolled into Minnesota on a 15-match winning streak before the Gophers ended it Thursday night. But the win didn’t come easy for Minnesota.
For a position that isn’t even counted as an official starter, the libero offers more than the stat sheet shows. Although a libero’s main statistical category is digs, her impact on the game can far exceed a simple bump. For two consecutive seasons, the Gophers have primarily started two players at the position — junior Morgan Bohl and sophomore Lindsey Lawmaster. And after two seasons on a “libero carousel,” it looks like the Gophers have found their starter — at least for now.
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