If the fluid execution of an offensive set in volleyball brings to mind a symphonic wave, the Gophers have been performing avant-garde jazz this season.
Lurching, confounding, disjointed, with plenty of open space, they have appeared lost at times.
There are some worthy caveats. This is a new team with new coaches. Their four losses came to teams currently ranked in the Top 11 in the AVCA poll. They have put together streaks of excellence.
But, as No. 12 Minnesota (4-4) enters Big Ten play at Iowa (8-4) on Thursday night (6 p.m., FS1), the disjointed play must be discussed.
In the first set against Creighton on Sunday, the Gophers took the court behind a hyped crowd and before there was time to process exactly what was happening, Creighton was up 23-9.
In the third set the Bluejays hit the Gophers with a 12-1 run that turned a tight 8-6 lead to a 20-7 drubbing — in that span the only point Minnesota scored came off a service error.
Watching the play unfold inside Maturi Pavilion left a basic impression: The Gophers were simply not functioning as a unit. Either the serve receive was sloppy or the set was poorly placed or the attack was meek, or all those things were happening at once with the team sprinting around out of system and getting smoked in transition.
These moments have been frustratingly common. A sample of scoring runs that went against the Gophers this season: Texas, 14-3; Florida, 9-2; Stanford, 15-5; even High Point put together a 9-2 run to win the first set last week.
Whether it stems from readiness or effort is hard to tell, but it speaks to a lack of cohesion. It has put the Gophers on the defensive and in their eight nonconference matches they won the first set only twice.
No Big Ten team has played the level of competition Minnesota has, but the Gophers rank 13th in points, 11th in hitting percentage, 12th in assists and 14th in kills among 14 Big Ten teams heading into conference play.
"What I see when things aren't going well are a varied level of responses," coach Keegan Cook said. "People are going to their individual values on how to respond to adversity."
How does that manifest on the court? Cook said some players might want to get really tactical to solve in-match problems, others may look to increase energy, others to remain poised. But when everyone is riding on different waves the result, no matter how well intentioned, can be wobbly.
Looking at the collective talent — Taylor Landfair, reigning Big Ten player of the year; Kylie Murr, reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year; Melani Shaffmaster, first team All-Big Ten — it is easy to wonder how this is happening.
But new coaches and players mean new systems, rotations and responsibilities. Cook's offense thrives on options — including utilizing back row sets when attackers such as Julia Hanson and Mckenna Wucherer are positioned there.
Shaffmaster, the team's offensive hub at setter, said having five attacking options is exciting but can lead to second-guessing.
"I get confused probably more than the hitters, because they know they can get the ball every time," she said. "But every time I set the ball I'm like, 'Oh I could have set like three other people in the same situation.'"
Wucherer has all the makings of an All-America outside, but this is her first college season playing six-rotation and whatever pedigree she has, this is a learning experience.
"I'm working on back row attacks now, getting more involved on the attack … defense, serve receive, working on my serve, I've been really high error but there's improvement," she said. "I'm very committed to what I can get better at."
When it comes to Landfair, answers are more elusive.
In eight nonconference matches last season, she hit .229 with 135 kills compared to .123 with 79 kills this season. It's worth noting the Gophers are spreading the ball around more, and she posted 73 fewer attempts. She has also been Minnesota's best server.
And, of course, Landfair is not a soloist. Her offense is the byproduct of her teammates, and vice versa.
But it sure feels like you'll know things are working when the Gophers' offensive crescendo more regularly comes from their most effective instrument: Landfair's undeniably powerful right arm.