Seniors lead Gophers to win over Iowa on senior night

Minnesota was able to play some of its reserves after the match was in hand.

The Minnesota volleyball team was hoping for success on senior night.

And with a four-game win over Iowa on Saturday, the Gophers managed to do just that, handing the four seniors a win on what could be their final home match of the season.

Senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman called the match bittersweet because she was happy to pick up the win but not quite ready to leave the friendly confines of the Sports Pavilion.

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“It almost doesn’t feel real that this was our last time,” she said. “We’re hoping to play again here for postseason, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to. It was kind of sad. We’re going to miss playing in Minnesota.”

The 12th-ranked Gophers (21-7 overall, 15-3 Big Ten) were led once again by the senior group in the match, as outside hitter Meghan Cumpston recorded 16 kills and four blocks, middle blocker Meredith Nelson added 16 kills and five blocks, and Bowman contributed 12 kills and 13 digs. Senior libero Malama Peniata posted 36 digs to lead Minnesota defensively.

Coach Mike Hebert has expressed his pleasure with his senior leadership all season long and Saturday night was no different.

“This crew has defined the program for four years,” he said. “They’ve been phenomenal and the best part is they’re playing like seniors. They’re reliable, calm, poised and it’s been great to see.”

The senior group led the Gophers through game one with ease, combining for 14 of Minnesota’s 21 kills and holding Iowa to nine kills in the 30-21 win.

Junior middle blocker Jessy Jones made her presence known in game two, contributing seven kills and a block to lead the Gophers past the hapless Hawkeyes 30-17.

Minnesota tried to get some younger players playing time in game three and Iowa took advantage.

The Hawkeyes (13-17, 2-16) broke away from a 22-22 tie – thanks to miscommunication by the Gophers – and picked up the 25-30 win.

Minnesota freshman outside hitter Rachelle Hagerty, playing in the first full match of her career, picked up four of her 13 kills in the losing effort.

“The new players played well in the third game,” Peniata said. “The problem was that we lacked focus and got sloppy. As seniors, we should have controlled the floor. If we would have done that, we could have avoided the breakdown.”

The outcome was never in doubt in the fourth game, as Nelson and Cumpston recorded four kills apiece and the Gophers held Iowa to a -.028 hit percentage to pick up the 30-21 win.

With the win, Minnesota moved one match closer to posting the same 17-3 conference record that the 2004 team did before making their run to the National Championship match.

And, while Bowman said she was excited to get to postseason play, she cautioned that the regular season wasn’t over quite yet.

“It’d be awesome if we could host the first and second round,” she said. “We love playing here and we receive great support, but we don’t want to get our hopes up quite yet. We still have two games to play.”