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Volleyball Enters Big Ten Season Top-Ranked and 11-1

09/22/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Nate Gelber

Other Gopher Sports

In rally-scoring volleyball, being down two games to one and 28-24 usually means that you are as good as finished. Minnesota was in such a position on Friday night against the unheralded Rice Owls at the UNC Volleyball Classic in Chapel Hill, NC. Coach Hebert took a timeout, hoping the Gophers could get the side-out that would send junior libero Paula Gentil back to serve. Minnesota got the point, and Gentil proceeded to serve the team through the next five points, out of their deep hole, and onto a game five. In game five, Minnesota showed the toughness that has made them the nation's #1 team, and finally dispatched the resilient Owls by a match score of 30-23 30-32 26-30 30-28 15-11. Erin Martin led the way with 22 kills, Trisha Bratford added 18, and Kelly Bowman finished with a triple-double, with 11 kills, 30 assists and a match-high 22 digs.

After the first match scare, Minnesota came out sluggish on Saturday morning against #20 Loyola Marymount, who had been upset the previous night by host North Carolina. The Gophers and the Lions both struggled to get into their offensive rhythm in game one, but Minnesota prevailed 32-30. The Minnesota offense awoke in game two, as the team hit a blistering .514 mark, and easily cruised through the game, 30-20. The Gophers kept a strong offense and swept the Lions, winning game three 30-23. Erin Martin led the team with a match-high 26 kills while hitting at an amazing .489 clip. Jessica Byrnes added 7 kills and Paula Gentil dug 23 balls for the match.

Saturday evening, the Gophers maintained their newly found offense, as they raced to an easy 30-24 30-22 30-12 victory over the host Tar Heels. Erin Martin once again put up outstanding statistics, banging down 22 kills at a sizzling .500 rate. Her otherworldly statistics in Saturday's matches earned Martin her third consecutive tournament MVP, an amazing achievement for a player who was not even named All Big-Ten last season. In addition to Martin's numbers, Trisha Bratford came out of her slump, hitting 13 kills at a .312 clip.

After taking home the championship in North Carolina, and retaining their #1 ranking when the latest AVCA poll came out Monday afternoon, the Gophers returned home to face the Cincinnati Bearcats on Monday night. The Bearcats made the quick jaunt up I-94 from Madison, after they went 0-3 in Wisconsin's InnTowner Invitational. Both teams were most likely weary from playing four matches in four days, and it showed as the Gophers sleepwalked to a 30-24 win in game one. Minnesota seemingly awoke after Paula Gentil went on a serving tear, reeling off 4 aces as the Gophers raced to a 10-0 lead in game 2, which they eventually won 30-14. Hebert subbed freely in game 3, which Minnesota easily won 30-19, allowing the Gophers to complete their long weekend with a 4-0 record. Erin Martin kept up her strong hitting display, leading the way with 14 kills while hitting .429. Paula Gentil had a career-high 4 service aces, and Trisha Bratford added 10 kills.

This weekend, Minnesota opens the Big Ten season at home as both Michigan teams come into the Sports Pavilion to give their shot at knocking off #1. Friday night, the Gophers take on the Spartans of Michigan State, who come in riding a three-game losing streak. MSU is led by returning All-Big Ten outside hitter Kim Schram and middle blocker Megan Wallin, both of whom are strong offensive options. The Spartans are directed on offense by freshman sensation Maggie Griffin and should pose a good opening test for Minnesota. The game starts at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion.

On Saturday night, the Gophers will probably face a stiffer test when they square-off against the 9-1 Michigan Wolverines, who are on the cusp of the AVCA top 25. Michigan runs a balanced attack spear-headed by senior setter Lisa Gamalski, who has several strong offensive options in Jennifer Gandolph, Lyndsey Miller and Danielle Pflum. Unfortunately this match-up will overlap the Gopher Football game with Northwestern, but hopefully the crowd will be large enough in the Pavilion to help lead the team to victory.

Both teams should press Minnesota to play well this weekend, however, the defensive resiliency, firepower of Erin Martin and the experience of the top-ranked Gophers should be enough for the team to open up the Big Ten season in a victorious fashion.

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Tag(s): Other Gopher Sports