Gophers struggle in Penn State loss

A visually frustrated Nicole Branagh sat still in the media room after Minnesota’s volleyball team lost to top-ranked Penn State on Friday night.
She certainly had reason to be disappointed after the Lions took Branagh off her game for most of the night.
Her line over the first two games: 4 kills, 10 errors, 24 attempts for a negative.250 hitting percentage.
The result? A 2-0 Penn State lead. The reason? Penn State’s defense made Branagh force her hits.
“I wasn’t hitting smart shots,” Branagh said. “They are a good blocking team.”
Asked if the Lions’ goal was to shut down Branagh, Penn State coach Russ Rose said, “That’s like saying our game plan is to shut down Shaquille (O’Neal).
“I don’t think you have a game plan, you just hope she doesn’t have big numbers against you.”
It wasn’t until the third game that Branagh was able to get into any sort of rhythm, but by then it was too late.
She had eight kills in a third-game victory, but was held to only one as the Lions closed the cage on any chance of a Minnesota come- from-behind upset. Penn State won 15-2, 15-5, 13-15, 15-7.
The frustration of Friday didn’t carry over to Saturday — Branagh had 19 kills in the win over Ohio State.
Full Friday
Friday’s match with Penn State drew a record crowd of 5,840 to the Sports Pavilion. The attendance was the highest for any sporting event ever at the Pavilion.
Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore, was one of the many in the stands Friday.
Gore — who was a guest of Women’s Athletics Director Chris Voelz — left between the second and third games.
Senior Saturday
Seniors Linda Shudlick, Susan Shudlick and Heather Swenson were honored prior to Saturday’s match with Ohio State.
The three played their final regular season match at the Sports Pavilion.
Selection Sunday
The field of 64 for the NCAA volleyball tournament will be announced next Sunday at 9 p.m.
Minnesota will have a party that night to learn who and where it will play for the opening rounds. A split next weekend should guarantee the Gophers will host the first and second rounds.

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected].