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Gophers breeze to sweep over Bryant in NCAA volleyball opener

December 1, 2018

During their run to a Big Ten title, the Gophers relied primarily on a multifaceted offense. Friday, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, their defense led the way in a sweep of Bryant.

The second-seeded Gophers put on a block party at Maturi Pavilion, racking up 16 blocks in a 25-10, 25-16, 25-21 victory to open the tournament. Bryant was stymied by the Gophers defense throughout the match, as the smaller Bulldogs repeatedly hit into a forest of fierce arms in their first-ever NCAA Division I tournament appearance.

Alexis Hart led the Gophers attack with 12 kills, and Taylor Morgan added eight. The two teamed up repeatedly on the block, which contributed to Bryants hitting percentage of .008. The Gophers hit .280 for the match.

Bryant also struggled with its accuracy, committing 32 attack errors while recording 33 kills.

The Gophers will play South Carolina, which defeated Colorado 3-2 in Fridays first match, in the second round Saturday. The winner of that match will advance to the regional semifinals next Friday.

As a top-four seed, the Gophers will host a regional next weekend if they win Saturday.

Bryant, located in Smithfield, R.I., was making its NCAA Division I tournament debut. A former Division II power, the Bulldogs had their best year since moving up to the top division in 2008, finishing 22-12 during the regular season and winning the Northeast Conference tournament.

That earned them a trip to Maturi Pavilion, where the Gophers had not lost in 14 matches this season. Bryant appeared nervous in the first set, struggling to hit over the Gophers block and misfiring on several other attacks.

The teams were tied 2-2 when the Gophers rattled off nine consecutive points, putting them firmly in charge. The string included four Bryant kills that went astray, a double-contact violation and a pair of blocks by Morgan and Samedy. The Bulldogs never got closer than seven points; after closing within 15-8, the Gophers finished the set on a 10-2 run.

Bryant had 10 attack errors and eight kills in the set, giving it a hitting percentage of -.056. The Gophers hit .333 and had five blocks.

The Bulldogs settled into a better rhythm early in the second set, keeping the score closer. Though they still had trouble getting over the Gophers defense, which recorded eight blocks, they got five kills from Flynn and scored four points in a row, cutting their deficit to 14-11 when Kristin Kingis smash banged off of Adanna Rollins.

But their erratic hitting returned, helping the Gophers to another long run and a 22-11 lead. Bryant committed 16 attack errors in the set while logging 11 kills, and Kingis errant kill attempt sailed long to give the Gophers the set.

With its season on the line, Bryant fought back in the third set. The Gophers took a 4-1 lead and maintained a three-point cushion until a 6-3 Bulldogs run tied it at 13. Another 3-0 spurt put Bryant ahead 17-16, giving them a lead for only the second time in the match.

The Gophers closed out the match with a 5-1 run, capped by a Rollins kill.

South Carolina got the last word in a back-and-forth match in Fridays opener. The Gamecocks (20-9) won 34-32, 19-25, 25-12, 13-25, 15-13, getting 19 kills from Mikayla Shields and 16 from Courtney Furlong. Rosemount native and former Gopher Brittany McLean was among three players to contribute 10 kills each.

McLean, Minnesotas Ms. Volleyball in 2015, played in eight matches for the Gophers as a sophomore last season before transferring. She also added two solo blocks Friday.

Colorado ended its season 18-14.

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