Gophers end first half of conference play 9-1 with dominating road win over Iowa

by Mark Heise

The Minnesota volleyball team is steamrolling its way into the second half of the season, continuing its hot streak with a three-game sweep at Iowa Friday night.

The win rounded out the first half of a double round-robin schedule and gave the Gophers a 9-1 conference record, a feat matched just three times in school history.

Minnesota dominated in all aspects of the match, finishing with 58 kills to Iowa’s 29 and out-hitting the Hawkeyes .331 to .123. The Gophers won the digs battle as well, 55-34.

Senior libero Malama Peniata contributed 20 digs for Minnesota and talked about the quality of play in a tough environment.

“We were able to focus and execute in Iowa, a hard place to play,” she said. “Jessy (Jones) and Meghan (Cumpston) had strong nights for us offensively to help us finish the first half of the season with a win.”

Thanks to three service aces from freshman defensive specialist Christine Tan, the 17th-ranked Gophers (15-5 overall, 9-1 Big Ten) cruised past the Hawkeyes 30-19 in game one.

Iowa (12-9, 1-8) came as close as 20-17 in the first game, but Minnesota ended any hopes of a comeback with a 6-0 run, putting the game out of reach. Junior middle blocker Jessy Jones contributed seven kills in the win.

Despite overpowering the Hawkeyes with a 17-10 kill advantage in the first game, the Gophers only hit .238 and that was something sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann said the team needed to fix.

“We started off slow in the first game,” she said. “But we came out strong to finish the match. We just needed to get back to the basics and think about the little things. After we did that, we were able to accomplish what we wanted to.”

Minnesota picked things up in the second game, recording 20 kills and a .368 hit percentage while holding Iowa to just seven kills.

The Gophers led comfortably 28-18 before running into a short slump. The Hawkeyes cut the lead to six, but sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig finished the game off with a kill, handing Minnesota a 30-23 win.

Iowa stood tough in the final game, keeping with the Gophers up to 17. But Minnesota ripped off an 11-2 run, spoiling the Hawkeyes’ comeback hopes with a 30-24 victory.

Jones led the Gophers with 17 kills and a .652 hit percentage, while senior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston added 14 kills and Roehrig recorded 12.

Senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman continued her improved play, contributing eight kills, 10 digs and two service aces in the win.

Coach Mike Hebert said he was pleased with his team’s performance to finish out the first half of the season. He mentioned the improved play over the last few weeks and attributed some of that to one player.

“The player that has really emerged as our leader on the court is Meghan Cumpston,” he said. “She’s doing a lot of things well for us right now and has really stabilized our outside hitter position. This is what you hope to get out of your seniors.”