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Gophers volleyball hopes to build on 8-0 start in Big Ten

The Gophers volleyball team ends a four-match homestead, its longest of the Big Ten season, this weekend against Iowa and…

The Gophers volleyball team ends a four-match homestead, its longest of the Big Ten season, this weekend against Iowa and No. 5 Nebraska at Maturi Pavilion. As they approach the midpoint of the 20-match conference schedule, the Gophers are in first place with an 8-0 record and are the only undefeated team in Big Ten play.

This weekend: 7 p.m. Friday vs. Iowa, 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Nebraska. Friday’s match will be livestreamed on BTN Plus. Saturday’s match will be televised live on BTN. The Game Day Live page on gophersports.com features live stats and play-by-play.

On roll: Last weekend’s back-to-back sweeps or No. 7 Illinois and Northwestern moved the Gophers to 8-0 in conference play, the best Big Ten start in program history. The Gophers had twice started the league season 7-0, in 1

989 and 1999. The streak includes victories over four opponents at the time ranked in the nation’s top seven, and the Gophers has lost only one set in Big Ten play, vs. Nebraska in a 3-1 win in Lincoln on Oct. 6.

By the numbers: The Gophers are ranked third in the nation in kills per set (15.12) and hitting percentage (.303), and they are sixth in assists per set (13.65). Setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who surpassed 5,000 career assists in the victory over Northwestern, is 12th in assists per set (11.44).

About Iowa: The Hawkeyes (12-7, 4-4 Big Ten) are unranked but received votes in this week’s AVCA poll. Setter Brie Orr of Eagan is ranked eightth in the Big Ten with 10.08 assists per set, and outside hitter Taylor Louis averages 4.01 kills per set, fifth in the conference. The Gophers are 76-11 against Iowa since the series began in 1975.

About Nebraska: When the Gophers won two weeks ago in Lincoln, it was only their eighth victory in a rivalry that has spanned 42 matches. The Huskers (15-2, 6-2), who play at No. 9 Wisconsin on Friday has lost two of their past three matches, falling 3-1 to the Gophers and 3-2 to Penn State. They are one of the league’s best defensive teams, ranking first in the Big Ten and ninth in the nation in blocks per set (2.86) and topping the country in opponents’ hitting percentage (.127).

Secret to the streak: Asked how the Gophers have remained undefeated in a brutally tough conference, coach Hugh McCutcheon cited their ability to play at a uniformly high level from week to week. “Consistency. That’s the critical element, “he said.” I think the team’s been playing some good volleyball, but we’re playing in the best league in the country right now. We have got to be able to maintain and even try to build on the foundation we’ve laid so far. ”

RACHEL BLOUNT

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