Minnesota earns split during tough road trip

Ohio State took the Gophers to five games Friday while Penn State swept Saturday.

by Mark Heise

Without one of its top players, the Minnesota volleyball team managed to make do.

The Gophers (12-4 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) topped Ohio State in five games 30-27, 30-24, 21-30, 30-32, 15-10 Friday, but fell to No. 3 Penn State in three games, 16-30, 25-30, 26-30.

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What: Volleyball
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: Sports Pavilion

“I think it was a good match to learn from,” junior setter Rachel Hartmann said. “(Penn State) is a beatable team, and hopefully the next time we meet it will be a whole different game.”

Friday’s game against Ohio State was a homecoming of sorts for sophomore outside hitter Rachelle Hagerty, and fans from Defiance, Ohio came out in full force to cheer her and the Gophers on.

Hagerty didn’t disappoint, recording three kills in the first game. Junior outside hitter Kyla Roehrig added four kills and a pair of blocks, helping send Minnesota to a 30-27 win.

The Gophers limited the amount of overpasses and free balls given up, which coach Mike Hebert said was a factor in their success.

“This is a game of ball control,” he said. “Teams that control the ball the best generally win, and I thought we did a really good job of that in the first two games.”

Hagerty continued her strong night hitting, collecting four kills in the second game to help the Gophers out to a comfortable 25-17 lead. Roehrig and Rachel Hartmann contributed four kills apiece as well as Minnesota went up by two games with the 30-24 victory.

On the verge of sweeping their 10th match of the year, the Gophers faltered in game three, committing 10 hitting errors and failing to block a single shot. The Buckeyes (8-7, 2-4) recorded just 11 kills, but blocked Minnesota five times and served up three aces to erase any sweep hopes. Ohio State won 30-21, forcing Minnesota into its first fourth game of the Big Ten season.

“It’s such an easy game to get out-of-sync with,” Hebert said. “Make one little mistake, and bam, everything goes wrong.”

Up 27-24 in game four, the Gophers let another one slip away, as serve-receive miscommunication and an untimely service error handed Ohio State a 29-28 lead. Minnesota survived that game point only to lose the next one, 32-30, forcing a fifth game.

Freshman middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer, who had already provided a strong match for the Gophers, provided a crucial kill, while Roehrig added four more, allowing the Gophers to escape with the 15-10 win despite committing six errors.

“When the points mattered, we managed to put them away,” Gibbemeyer said. “That’s the important thing, and that’s what got us through.”

Minnesota might have managed to squeak past Ohio State on the road, but they weren’t about to repeat against a much more dominating Penn State squad.

The Nittany Lions (14-2, 6-0) displayed the power they have been known for in the first game, collecting 18 kills to immediately grab a commanding lead. Up 17-7, Penn State finished off the hapless Gophers, 30-16. Minnesota hit .000 for the game, with just eight kills.

The Nittany Lions put a double block on nearly every swing from the Gophers, making it difficult for Minnesota to find a groove. While the Gophers still struggled with hitting, their blocking came alive in the second game. Minnesota took advantage of strong blocking from Hartmann and junior Kelly Schmidt, and came back from an eight-point deficit to take a 21-20 lead.

It was as close as the Gophers would come, as Penn State tightened up its hitting to finish on a 10-4 run, winning 30-25.

“That’s what good teams do, they fight back,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “They came back, we came back, we ended up out front.”

Minnesota continued to improve its play after a poor performance in the first game, tying the game at 15 by using a variety of shots mixed in with a continued aggressive and successful serving game.

Despite giving up points due to net violations, the Gophers remained within two to the 23-25 mark, but Penn State’s offensive firepower outmatched Minnesota, as the Nittany Lions recorded 18 kills to win 30-26.

“We just need to come in on Tuesday and start getting ready for Wisconsin,” Hartmann said. “This game didn’t hurt us at all.”