Minnesota falls to Penn State in five

The Gophers fell to 3-2 in the Big Ten after losing to the nation’s No. 4 team.

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

Chelsea Gortmaker

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

Megan Ryan

On paper, the Gophers volleyball team and Penn State were evenly matched with identical 3-1 conference records and only two total losses on the season.

And the five-set match Wednesday night proved it.

No. 11 Minnesota lost a close five-set thriller to No. 4 Penn State in University Park, Pa. The match was tit for tat, with the Nittany Lions taking the first, third and fifth sets and the Gophers nabbing the ones in between. The average winning margin was just less than four points.

And the statistics showed how level the teams were. The Gophers managed 18 team blocks to Penn State’s 18.5 and a .208 hitting percentage to .245.

“We saw how close we are to Penn State,” junior libero Morgan Bohl said. “When we see them again later on in the Big Ten and then possibly in the tournament … we know that we’re right with them, and they are definitely a beatable team for us.”

Bohl started her first match of the season at the defensive position, replacing sophomore Lindsey Lawmaster. Bohl played the position when the Gophers faced the Nittany Lions in the Elite Eight last season and said that experience helped against the seasoned and powerful Penn State hitters.

Penn State’s senior right-side hitter Ariel Scott led the match with 25 kills while three of her teammates also had double-digit kills.

“You’ve kind of got to get past the mentality [that] they’re hard hitters and … work on the process of getting in a good place and reading from there,” Bohl said.

Senior outside hitter Ashley Wittman led the Gophers offensively and defensively with 18 kills and 22 digs.

“I was just trying to lead the team and trying to get the emotion in there,” Wittman said. “The more I got into it, the more I think it helped my team.”

Senior middle blocker Tori Dixon had 17 kills and nine total blocks. She said her team played pretty much just how it wanted.

“We stuck to a plan for most of the match,” Dixon said. “And then when we got in trouble, that’s when we kind of fell off the plan.”

While the match could have gone either way, the Gophers aren’t bitter about ending up on the wrong side.

“There [are] things we could have done better, and a few more things would have turned a couple more points, but you never know,” Wittman said. “I think for 90 percent of that game, we fought for our lives.”

Ohio State on Saturday

The Gophers will end their two-weekend road trip by traveling to Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday to take on No. 14 Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are 14-2 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten conference.

They lost in three sets at home to No. 7 Michigan State on Sept. 29 and in three sets on the road to No. 20 Purdue last weekend. They did, however, manage to cap off that weekend series with a five-set win at Indiana.