Minnesota inconsistent in weekend split at home

The Gophers beat Ohio State but lost to Penn State over the weekend.

Gophers middle blocker Tori Dixon prepares to spike the ball against Penn State on Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Gophers middle blocker Tori Dixon prepares to spike the ball against Penn State on Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.

by David Nelson

No. 2 Penn State was the better team on paper heading into its match with the No. 11 Gophers.

And the Nittany Lions proved they were the better team on the court when they swept Minnesota on Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.

“For us to win tonight, we had to play a good match, not a great match,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said following the loss, “but we had to be in it for a long period of time.”

The Gophers weren’t.

Penn State went up 9-4 in the first set and quickly drew the first blood with a first-set win.

Minnesota looked off its game in the first set with a subpar .179 hitting percentage.

“We kind of backed down and just let them come at us,” senior outside hitter Ashley Wittman said. “At one point, it was like we were afraid to screw up more than we were to just play the game and go after it like we do every single night.”

The Nittany Lions took absolute control of the match in the second set with an eight-point win while leading in nearly every statistical category.

“They were converting those little plays,” senior middle blocker Tori Dixon said. “It’s a cover here and an extra touch [there]. At the end of the day, they kept going at it, versus we kind of backed away from it.”

The Gophers battled back in the third set and forced 16 tie scores and six lead changes. It still wasn’t enough, though, as Penn State pulled ahead late in the set and never relinquished the lead.

“I don’t think our athletes understood … that we needed to weather the storm when it came,” McCutcheon said.

It was a different story Friday night when Minnesota brought the storm to Ohio State through a sweep of its own.

Both teams seemed evenly matched through the first set, but after some pivotal defensive adjustments, Minnesota broke the match open.

McCutcheon said his team “upgraded” on defense after the first set, and that helped lead it to victory.

“One of our focuses this week was to get a little cleaner on the defensive end. So it was nice we were able to do that,” he said.

While a majority of the team stood out over the weekend, Wittman was on a different level.

She recorded back-to back double-doubles in the two-match span. She had 13 kills and 15 digs against Ohio State and had 13 kills and 12 digs against Penn State.

“I try to be as stable and consistent in all parts of my game as I can,” Wittman said. “I know it’s only going to help our team.”

The Gophers will need that stable play next weekend when they travel to Michigan for matches against Michigan and Michigan State.