Minnesota splits series with higher-ranked Texas

The Gophers upset the No. 4 Longhorns on Thursday but lost on Friday.

Minnesota outside hitter Daly Santana spikes against Miami on Sept 1 at the Sports Pavilion.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Minnesota outside hitter Daly Santana spikes against Miami on Sept 1 at the Sports Pavilion.

Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team encountered its first real competition of the season Thursday and Friday in Austin, Texas, against No. 4 Longhorns.

Considering Minnesota is ranked 14th, splitting the series wasn’t a bad result for the visitors.

Minnesota overcame the favorites in the first match, defeating Texas 3-1. The Longhorns learned from their mistakes and reversed their fate Friday, also winning in four sets.

Minnesota’s Thursday- night win ended Texas’s 33-match home winning streak that stretched back to September 2010.

“It feels great no matter what,” junior outside hitter Ashley Wittman said. “But finding out [we broke the winning streak] after the game, it even brought more excitement … to have done that to a big-name school and a ranked team.”

Minnesota won 25-22 in the first set, hammered Texas 25-13 in the second, faltered 27-29 in the third and sealed the win 29-27 in the fourth.

Three Gophers hitters tallied double-digit statistics in offensive and defensive categories. Senior Katherine Harms had a team-high 24 kills as well as 13 digs.

Wittman and freshman Daly Santana both had a team-high 16 digs and scored 13 and 11 kills, respectively.

“As a player in general, it’s good to have both skills … because that allows you to play the whole game and be a six-rotation player,” Wittman said. “A lot of our players are definitely either six-rotation players or on their way to becoming one. So I think that’s a big thing we’re working on this year.”

The exhilaration of winning the first match soon wore off. On Friday, Minnesota fell 25-20, 20-25, 25-22, 25-21.

Head coach Hugh McCutcheon attributed the loss to Texas’s increased level of play and his own team’s mistakes.

“I think we probably had a few too many errors as we tried to force the game,” McCutcheon said. “When you’ve got a team as physical as Texas and they’re playing hard … it’s easy to try and match them swing for swing instead of just having patience.”

Minnesota made 23 hitting errors and 13 service errors in the first match. In the second, it made 29 hitting errors and 12 service errors.

Wittman said the difference between the first night and the second was Texas’s desire for redemption.

“They blocked a lot more in that second match, and they figured out some of the tendencies of our hitters,” Wittman said. “I don’t think they wanted to go 0-2 in their home gym.”

Santana, however, managed to continue her consistent attacking and defending. She made nine kills and led the team with 11 digs. Junior middle blocker Tori Dixon and Harms were the only Gophers to have more kills than Santana with 12.

The freshman from Puerto Rico is adjusting to college, NCAA volleyball and a new country, but those changes haven’t stalled her contribution to the team.

“For me, it has been great,” Santana said. “All of my teammates are awesome, and they make it easy to be here and to get used to everything.”

Santana said although Minnesota only notched one win in Texas, the confidence boost of beating a ranked team will influence the rest of the season.

“That felt really good for all of us. We obviously have goals, and one of them was to be able to play good against them,” Santana said. “That second [match] against Texas can help us a lot to get better.”

The loss to Texas ended Minnesota’s six-match winning streak to start the season.