Big home games, huge losses

by Robert Mews

For the first time since 1998, Minnesota’s volleyball team lost back-to-back home matches, against Ohio State and Penn State this weekend.

On Friday the 12th-ranked Gophers fell to No. 20 Ohio State in three games, 30-28, 30-26, 30-28. The team followed that match with a loss Saturday to No. 3 Penn State in three games, 30-9, 30-17, 30-17.

The 30-9 pounding by the Nittany Lions is the worst loss for Minnesota since the NCAA implemented the 30-point rally-scoring format in 2001.

“I can’t think of one phase of the game that we played well in,” coach Mike Hebert said. “We couldn’t put two big plays together to save our lives.”

The Gophers came out flat in the first game against Ohio State and were out hit .257 percent to .202 percent over the course of the match. Ohio State’s .257 hitting percentage marks the third time a Minnesota opponent has hit for more than .200 this season.

“I think they just got on our heels on a couple of plays,” junior setter Kelly Bowman said. “And it just happened really quick, and they would get a rally point really quick.”

Bowman, along with middle blocker Jessy Jones, led the team with four block assists apiece.

Jones started the first game slowly but came out in the second hitting the ball hard and often.

“I absolutely hate to lose. I hate it,” Jones said. “So I do absolutely anything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Jones hit for .571 in the second game and had five of her 12 kills in that period.

Despite the effort by Jones, the Gophers had trouble getting any offensive streak going and had difficulty defending against Ohio State setter Marisa Main. Main was named Big Ten Player of the Week last week and continued her good performance with a triple-double; she had 12 kills, 37 assists and 13 digs.

“She’s a huge part of their offense,” Hebert said. “I just got to hand it to her, she just beat us.”

Minnesota didn’t have much time to regroup for Saturday’s match against Penn State.

The Gophers came out flat once again and were outdone in nearly every category – kills, hitting percentage, assists, serving, digs and blocks.

“You know, just when we thought last night couldn’t get any worse, we run into one of the great performances in a long time by any Big Ten team,” Hebert said. “I thought Penn State was spectacular at times.”

The first game was quick and ended with Minnesota hitting a dismal negative .275. They finished the night hitting negative .051.

Part of the reason for the low hitting percentage was Penn State’s blocking. They finished the match with 14.5 blocks.

“We were trying to hit high,” junior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston said, “But sometimes when you think you’re hitting high, you’re not hitting high enough.”

Cumpston, along with junior middle blocker Meredith Nelson, was second on the team with four kills.

“I think that the problem we’re having is emotionally,” Cumpston said. “We’re just trying to find that little bit of chemistry that’s going to hold us together and kind of unify us.”

The Gophers came out of the break and played better offensively and defensively, but it was not enough to overcome the big hitting by two of the Nittany Lions’ freshmen, Nicole Fawcett and Christa Harmotto. Fawcett had 11 kills and Harmotto finished with 10.

“For them, this is not a big deal,” Hebert said. “It’s unusual to have freshmen who have that level of experience. And being 6-4″ and strong as an ox doesn’t hurt.”