Six matches into the Big Ten season, the No. 3 Gophers are 6-0, their best start in league play in 19 years. They play their next four matches at Maturi Pavilion, beginning Friday against No. 7 Illinois.
It's an important stretch for a team with aspirations of winning its third Big Ten championship in a season that ends with the NCAA Final Four at Target Center in December.
This weekend: 7 p.m. Friday vs. No. 7 Illinois; 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Northwestern. Both matches will be livestreamed on BTN Plus. The Game Day Live page at gophersports.com features live stats and play-by-play.
Next weekend: 7 p.m. Friday vs. Iowa; 7 p.m. Saturday vs. No. 5 Nebraska. The Friday match will be livestreamed on BTN Plus, and the Saturday match will be shown live on BTN.
About this weekend's opponents: Illinois (15-2 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) won its first 14 matches of the season before consecutive 3-1 losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Illini's season-opening streak included victories over five Top 25 teams. Outside hitter Jacqueline Quade leads the Big Ten with 4.16 kills per set, while setter Jordyn Poulter is ranked second in assists per set (11.44).
Northwestern (10-8, 0-6) is among the five teams the Gophers swept to begin conference play. The Gophers are 60-19 all-time against the Wildcats and have won the past seven matches in the series.
Season so far
About the streak: The Gophers have dropped only one set in their six Big Ten victories while defeating three teams ranked among the top five in the nation. They swept Penn State (then No. 4) and Wisconsin (then No. 5) at home. Last Saturday, they defeated Nebraska, then ranked No. 3, in Lincoln 3-1. It's the best Big Ten start for the Gophers since they went 7-0 to start the 1999 season — a streak ended by Illinois.
Where the Gophers rank: A balanced, precise attack has the Gophers ranked fourth in the nation in kills per set (15.00) and hitting percentage (.302). Junior middle blocker Taylor Morgan is fourth nationally in hitting percentage (.429) and first (.485) in conference play. In Big Ten matches, the Gophers lead the league in hitting percentage (.311), assists (14.79 per set), kills (15.79 per set) and digs (17.79 per set).
The coach's perspective: Asked about the reasons for his team's stellar Big Ten start, Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon cited its consistency, resilience, teamwork and ability to implement changes in practice that have helped it become a little better each week.
"This group has shown they're very connected,'' McCutcheon said. "They're all in it together. It's a nice start.
"We still have a long way to go, but I'm happy with the performance so far.''