Women struggle on first Big Ten road trip

Nebraska beat the Gophers in three sets before Iowa took them to five.

Minnesota Tori Dixon prepares to spike the ball against Purdue on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota Tori Dixon prepares to spike the ball against Purdue on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team kicked off its first road trip of the Big Ten season in rocky fashion.

No. 10 Nebraska swept No. 8 Minnesota on Friday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center before the Gophers mounted a comeback five-set victory against Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday.

The Cornhuskers’ brand new arena hosted 8,223 fans, but Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said the rabid fan base wasn’t to blame for the loss.

“It was a packed stadium and a nice facility,” McCutcheon said. “We were thinking it was an opportunity.”

But the Gophers failed to seize that opportunity — Nebraska outhit Minnesota .385 to .226 and put up seven more team blocks.

The Cornhuskers’ success hinged on senior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, who tallied a match-high 21 kills and .450 hitting percentage.

“We knew what she was going to do,” McCutcheon said. “We just had trouble dealing with her off-speed, and she did a very nice job mixing up her shots.”

Senior middle blocker Tori Dixon said Robinson embodied the Cornhuskers’ best trait — accuracy.

“It’s really, really hard to [defend her] because she has a lot of range,” Dixon said. “She doesn’t make a lot of errors in general. … She sees the court really well, and she kind of just placed it where we weren’t.”

The Cornhuskers didn’t give Minnesota any breaks in the match, Dixon said.

“They keep the ball in and make the play a lot, which I think is just different from what we normally see,” Dixon said. “They’re really smart with the ball, and they don’t just slash through our block.”

Senior outside hitter Ashley Wittman said that while Nebraska did many things successfully in the match, her team struggled to focus on its own strategy.

“I think they were a really stable team,” Wittman said. “I think we kind of backed down to them.”

The match against the unranked Hawkeyes was a chance for a bounce-back win, but the match still didn’t start well.

The Gophers dropped the first two sets to unranked Iowa and looked poised for an upset loss.

During a break between the second and third sets, McCutcheon said he didn’t make a grand speech. Instead, he was calm and rational about the need for a turnaround.

“In the first two sets, we were having some issues with serve receive,” McCutcheon said. “We came into the third, we got our rhythm and away we went.”

That rhythm carried over into the rest of the match for a comeback five-set win.

The Gophers are now 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten. They will play on the road again this week against ranked teams Penn State and Ohio State.