Minnesota snaps Wisconsin’s win streak

The Gophers won in Madison for the first time since the 2003 season.

Mark Heise

Wednesday was a happy 21st birthday for junior middle blocker Jessy Jones.

Jones combined with senior middle blocker and Wisconsin native Meredith Nelson to have a field day, as the Minnesota volleyball team outplayed No. 10 Wisconsin en route to a four-game upset.

The birthday girl recorded 15 kills to tie a career-high and added three blocks as the 12th-ranked Gophers (20-7 overall, 14-3 Big Ten) handed the Badgers their first home loss since Aug. 25.

“I’ve never actually won at Wisconsin,” Jones said. “So this was a great little present for me.”

Traditionally a powerhouse at home, Wisconsin also suffered their first loss against Minnesota at home since 2003 – making Nelson and fellow seniors Kelly Bowman and Malama Peniata the only Minnesota players to have experienced a win on that court until Wednesday.

The Badgers (21-6, 13-4) struggled through the night, being held to a .173 hit percentage thanks in part to Peniata’s team-high 17 digs. More surprisingly, Wisconsin was also overpowered in one of its strongest areas, losing the blocking game 14-4.5.

“We were well prepared offensively to avoid their block,” coach Mike Hebert said. “Our two middle blockers took advantage of what Wisconsin was giving us tonight. They hit and blocked at a very high level and dominated throughout the match.”

Led by seven kills apiece from Jones and Nelson, the Gophers started strong to capture games one and two, 30-26 and 30-22.

Wisconsin took advantage of Minnesota’s .049 hitting percentage in game three, to beat the Gophers 30-18 and hold onto a slim chance of overcoming the 2-0 deficit.

The Badgers held a slim 17-14 lead in game four, but the Gophers tied it at 20, erasing Wisconsin’s final lead of the night.

Nelson put the team on her shoulders from that point on, collecting five of her seven kills in the final moments of the match to help Minnesota avoid a fifth game, winning the fourth 30-25.

“All the seniors really started to take charge towards the end of the match,” she said. “We had a good matchup with me against a freshman blocker and it sort of fell together for us. We really wanted to win and the team came together to make that happen.”

Nelson led the way with 17 kills, seven blocks and a .481 hit percentage, while senior outside hitters Meghan Cumpston and Bowman recorded 12 and 10 kills, respectively.

Jones said the win wasn’t only important in giving the Gophers sole ownership of second place in the conference, but was also an important test for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

“It’s just great to be able to go in and win in an atmosphere like that,” she said. “You have to play that much better to overcome the extra obstacles. It was a great test for the postseason and we passed it.”