Coming off an intense five-set loss to rival Wisconsin that knocked them out of the Big Ten title race, and with NCAA tournament selections coming Sunday, the Gophers volleyball team has one last conference road trip looming.
It won't be easy.
They'll face Penn State in State College, Pa., on Friday before traveling to Maryland on Saturday to end the regular season.
There's still a lot of wiggle room in the Big Ten standings and NCAA tournament seedings for the Gophers (17-8 overall, 13-5 conference) — who enter the weekend ranked No. 20 in the RPI, according to NCAA.com, and No. 10 in the AVCA Top 25 poll.
But for coach Hugh McCutcheon, he isn't concerned about the rankings or whether his team needs any extra motivation heading into this weekend.
"This group has shown enough maturity where I think they'll be just fine. Obviously we have hopes for a postseason, but we have to take care of conference," he said. "I don't think the group is going to get too far ahead of them."
A win at Penn State (19-9, 12-6) — ranked No. 15 in the AVCA and No. 27 in RPI — would give a boost to the Gophers resume, but winning at Rec Hall is rare for Minnesota.
While the Gophers got a road win against the Nittany Lions in 2019 — a four-set victory in the last match of the regular season — that was their first win there since 2003. On top of that, Penn State swept the Gophers at Maturi Pavilion earlier this season.
"We learned a lot from the first time we played them, more about us," McCutcheon said. "Hopefully we're a little bit better."
The Nittany Lions feature seniors Kaitlyn Hord and Jonnni Parker. Hord ranks third in the conference in hitting percentage at .408 after making First-Team All-Big Ten last season. Parker is sixth in the conference in kills per set at 3.81 and recorded her 1,000th career kill earlier this season. (For comparison, Gophers senior Stephanie Samedy leads the conference at 4.82 kills.)
"We know they're going to be strong in the middle of the court, and they can get it going with their middles," McCutcheon said. "So our ability to hit a good serve in the court and defend accordingly is going to be important."