After 2-week COVID-19 pause, Gopher volleyball hosts Illinois this weekend

Melanie Schaffmaster was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week after the Gophers swept Michigan State in a pair of 3-0 wins to open the 2021 season. ((credit: University of Minnesota Athletics))

Gophers’ volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon might have said it best in his weekly session with media on Thursday: It would be naïve to think his program wouldn’t be hit by COVID-19 at some point.

Unfortunately for McCutcheon, he was right. Two weeks ago, Minnesota had matches against Michigan postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Wolverines. Last week, the Gophers had to cancel their matches at Ohio State due to COVID-19 issues of their own.

They’ve had four matches postponed and haven’t played in two full weekends, but barring any complications they’ll be on the court Friday and Saturday for matches against Illinois. Both of those will be aired locally on Fox 9 Plus.

"Right from the get-go, we expected there would be some chop. Here we are. I think the team has done a really nice job of just playing it day to day and managing whatever it is we’ve been presented with as we’ve gone through these last couple weeks," McCutcheon said. "We’re just excited to get back in the saddle and compete this weekend."

The Gophers were still able to practice the week they were supposed to play Michigan, then took the weekend off. They were getting ready to face Ohio State when they learned of positive COVID-19 tests within their own program.

McCutcheon said they took four days off to test every player, and the medical team gave them clearance to get back to practice on Monday. He wouldn’t say who will or won’t be available this weekend against the Illini.

The Gophers actually welcomed the two weeks off, both to heal and work on individual skills. Minnesota, 9-1 and ranked No. 5 in the country, has already swept No. 10 Purdue and No. 12 Penn State. They’ve also split with No. 4 Nebraska, and haven’t played a match since their first loss of the season.

They’ll find out where they’re at Friday night against Illinois.

"There’s an opportunity in all this, first off our first half of the season was pretty rigorous. Having a little bit of time to heal up and get ready for this push down the stretch was good. But also it allowed us to work on a few things and add a few layers," McCutcheon said. "We’re excited to play and see how much better we are really."