Sep. 24—Coming off four consecutive nonconference victories, the No. 9 Gophers volleyball team opens the Big Ten Conference season against Michigan at 8 p.m. Friday.
Last week, the Gophers won the Diet Coke Classic at Maturi Pavilion, sweeping St. Thomas and Iowa State.
"Yeah, it was big time," Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said of the team's win streak coming off a 1-3 start. "We needed some outcomes to validate our process...bottom line is finding a way to win in the Pac-12 event (over No. 14 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon) and then coming home and putting a couple of nice solid performances out there at home was a big deal.."
The Gophers' nonconference season is now complete, and they are 5-3 heading into conference play. However, their season won't get easier as they prepare for the competitive play of the Big Ten. Counting the Gophers, the conference has six teams ranked among the nation's top 25.
"I think it's a privilege to play in our conference," McCutcheon said. "It's challenging. Every night it's hard, but there's something to that. This idea that we get to battle, especially for us being able to battle at home, and the environment that we get at the Pav. It's pretty special."
No. 2 Wisconsin (8-0) and No. 3 Ohio State (10-0) are undefeated through nonconference play. The Badgers have dropped just two sets this season and have one big win, over No. 10 Baylor in the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge, the same tournament in which the Gophers lost to the Bears in four sets. The Buckeyes have lost four sets and also have one ranked win, over No. 6 Washington.
Other ranked Big Ten teams are No. 7 Purdue (8-1), No. 12 Nebraska (7-3) and Nov. 20 Penn State (7-3).
Friday's foe, Michigan, is 7-2 and riding a three-match winning streak with sweeps against Eastern Michigan, Boston College and Dayton. On Sunday, the Gophers play host to Maryland (12-0). Neither the Wolverines nor the Terrapins have played a ranked team this season.
"It's going to be gnarly," McCutcheon said about the Big Ten competition this season. "I think it's as good as it's ever been, mainly because of the fifth-year seniors and the transfers. Teams that maybe lost some (players) have reloaded with some of these transfers. It's going to be awesome."