No. 7 Gophers sweep No. 4 Penn State in volleyball
When the Gophers played in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge 10 days ago, they didnt get the results they hoped for. Coach Hugh McCutcheon said, though, that his young team learned plenty from a pair of 3-1 road losses to teams ranked in the top 20.
McCutcheon hoped the Gophers could put those lessons into action in time for Wednesdays Big Ten opener against No. 4 Penn State at Maturi Pavilion. He got an emphatic affirmation, as the seventh-ranked Gophers swept the Nittany Lions 3-0. They were led by superb performances by Stephanie Samedy (14 kills, five blocks), Adanna Rollins (13 kills) and Taylor Morgan (six kills, four blocks) as they won their conference opener for the seventh season in a row.
The Gophers (7-2) won the first set 25-22, using a late 6-0 run to seal the set. A 5-1 run deep into the second setand their ability to shut down a late Nittany Lions chargegave them a 25-21 victory and a 2-0 lead. They rolled early in the third, taking a 9-2 lead and hanging on to win 25-19 and drop Penn State to 9-2.
The Gophers rolled through their first five matches of the season, dropping only one set. After rising to No. 1, they got their first truly tough test in California. They lost to Oregon, ranked No. 18 at the time, and to Stanford, ranked No. 3 at the time.
McCutcheon wasnt happy with the Gophers readiness against the Ducks. How we prepare for competition matters, he said. If were going to be the team we believe we truly can become, those days have to be done.
The coach reminded his team that what really mattered at that point was how the Gophers responded. A stronger performance against Stanford and a sweep of Green Bay back home got them back on the right track to start Big Ten play. In a loaded conferenceseven Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 18 in the countryMcCutcheon said the Gophers were starting with a bang, and the match was just as fierce and thrilling as he expected.
Through the early stages of the first set, the Gophers played catch-up. With Samedy, Rollins and Hart all firing, they took their first lead at 13-12, aided by some fine blocking and a couple of Penn State blunders.
Penn State returned the favor, using a 6-2 run to recapture a 19-17 lead. A Hart kill was the first of six consecutive points, putting the Gophers firmly in charge. Three Penn State mistakes, a block by Samedy and Morgan and a soft Samedy kill fueled the rally, which gave the Gophers a 23-19 lead.
A big block by Hart and Morgan, followed by a Morgan kill, ended the set.
The second set progressed in much the same fashion. Four early kills by Rollins helped the Gophers keep pace, until a 6-2 run midway through the set put them ahead 17-13.
Penn State was victimized by a rash of errors in the set, hitting only .081. An off-target serve by Serena Gray and three hitting errors contributed to a 5-1 Gophers run that pushed them to a 23-18 lead. The Nittany Lions pulled themselves together late to score three in a row, but kills by Morgan and Rollins ended the set and put the Gophers ahead 2-0.
That seemed to take some of the confidence out of Penn State. The Gophers began the third set on a tear, taking the first three points on kills by Hart, Morgan and Samedy. A 7-2 spurt put them ahead 11-4, with Rollins and Samedy again leading the way.