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Gophers take down Michigan in five sets

It was the first five set match of the season for the Gophers.
Image by Jack Rodgers
Outside Hitter Alexis Hart receives the ball at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Sept. 7. The Gophers defeated Florida 3 sets to 0 for their home opener.

The Gopher women’s volleyball team went to a fifth set for the first time this season and came out the victors, downing Michigan in dramatic fashion.

It was a wild five set victory, as the Gophers won three straight after dropping the first two sets. They won 22-25, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18 and 15-13. 

Minnesota had control early in the first. Outside hitter Alexis Hart had back-to-back kills to give the Gophers an 8-4 lead. Minnesota’s lead remained at four after a kill by opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy put them up 13-9. But it was Michigan’s freshman outside hitter Paige Jones who got things rolling for the Wolverines. She had a kill that gave Michigan a 16-15 lead, and another late in the set that gave them a 22-21 lead. Gophers middle blocker Regan Pittman tied the set at 22 with a kill, but Michigan closed it out on a 3-0 run. 

Jones and Michigan kept it rolling in the second. She had an early kill that gave Michigan a 6-3 lead and followed it with an ace to extend their lead to four. For Minnesota, it was Hart who was able to get the Gophers back in the set. She had back-to-back kills that tied the set at 16. She went back-to-back again and gave Minnesota an 18-17 lead. Hart again kept things alive for the Gophers late, tying the second at 23 with another kill. She had seven kills in the set. But once again Michigan scored the last two to take the set and go up 2-0, despite the Gophers .483 hit percentage in the set. 

“Yeah, just shows you the caliber of the match. But they were killing it at a higher rate than we were in terms of number of kills,” said head coach Hugh McCutcheon.

Jones was a big reason for Michigan’s high kill rate, with 26 in the match. 

“It felt like we were chasing her a lot in the first two sets,” McCutcheon said. “She’s a really good hitter with a lot of range, so it’s hard to block every shot. When you’re trying to do everything, you end up doing nothing. We really just tried to take some stuff away and be disciplined around the edges and that seemed to work a little bit better for us.”

The Gophers looked to avoid the sweep as they entered the third. Hart kept the momentum going early with a kill that gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead. As Michigan tried to close out the match, Samedy wouldn’t let it happen. She had an ace to give Minnesota a 14-12 lead, and also had a series of late kills to ensure the Gophers would see a fourth set. Samedy gave Minnesota a 21-17 lead with a much-needed kill after a brief Michigan run. She added another clutch kill late to put the Gophers up 23-21. This time it was Minnesota who scored the last two and avoided the sweep.

The Gophers entered the fourth hoping to play a fifth set for the first time this season, and they made it happen. Michigan opened the set on a 4-0 run that forced an early Minnesota timeout. The Gophers answered out of the timeout and were able to tie the set at eight off a Pittman kill. Hart once again came up big for the Gophers late with another set of back-to-back kills, getting Minnesota to set point. Pittman closed out the set with an ace, and the Gophers would play a fifth for the first time in the 2019 season. 

As one might expect, the fifth went back and forth early. The Gophers fell behind 5-8, but made a run as a block by Pittman and middle blocker Shea Rubright tied the set at eight. Pittman and Rubright connected on blocks twice more, and all of a sudden Minnesota was up 11-8 and on a 6-0 run. Michigan didn’t give in as they fought back to tie the set at 12. Hart answered for the Gophers with a huge kill to give them a 13-12 lead. Again, Michigan tied it up. This time it was Samedy who answered for the Gophers, getting them to match point. Middle blocker Taylor Morgan closed out the match with a solo block to give Minnesota their third straight set and the match.

“I think we connected really well, had a lot of energy as a team and just showed a lot of grit towards the end,” Hart said. 

The Gophers will be back in action Sunday when they take on Michigan State.

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