Gophers win streak at eight after home wins

Mark Heise

Another record was set by the Minnesota volleyball team this weekend.

With two Big Ten wins, the Gophers improved to 4-0 in the conference and became the first team since 2002 to win its first four conference matches.

Minnesota overpowered No. 24 Michigan Friday night in a three-game sweep and then finished off a tough Michigan State team in five games on Sunday.

Opening up against the struggling Wolverines, the Gophers struggled to figure out Michigan’s serving game and trailed 13-19 midway through the first game. Led by senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson and sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig, Minnesota overcame the deficit to tie things up at 26 before eventually winning 32-30.

Roehrig and Nelson contributed five kills apiece, and the Gophers finished with a match-high 20 kills for the game.

Minnesota (10-4 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) made full use of its defense in game two, holding Michigan to a .058 hit percentage to make up for an offensive power outage.

The Wolverines (13-4, 0-4) held a 19-24 lead in the game, but were victimized by another Gopher comeback. Senior libero Malama Peniata recorded nine digs in the game and junior middle blocker Jessy Jones added four blocks as Minnesota pushed past the Michigan 30-28 to grab a commanding 2-0 lead.

Coach Mike Hebert said he was happy with his team’s comeback ability.

“This team just doesn’t seem to mind trailing,” he said. “They’re developing the mind-set where they don’t mind being behind, and have the resiliency to be able to make a comeback.”

The Gophers jumped out to a comfortable lead early in game three, taking a double-digit lead late into the game. Michigan attempted a very late comeback, but Minnesota put away the game, 30-24.

Senior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston collected five of her nine kills in game three and the Gophers pulled off another three-game sweep at home.

Peniata said she was pleased with her team’s defensive play in the match, highlighting the importance of the Gophers’ blocking and digging in the win.

“I felt comfortable with our defense out there,” she said. “Our blockers knew where they were trying to hit the ball and gave us clean digging lanes all night.”

As defense-minded as the Michigan game was, Sunday’s Michigan State match was just the opposite.

The Gophers and the Spartans (10-4, 1-3) both posted hitting percentages around .300 as defense disappeared for the match.

Minnesota trailed throughout most of the first game, and lost 28-30 despite rallying to tie the game at 27. The Gophers committed 12 errors in the game and were blocked six times.

Games two and three belonged to Nelson and Jones.

The two middle blockers took over the game as Nelson posted 12 kills over the two games and Jones added 11.

Minnesota cut down on its errors and cranked out hit percentages of around .480, taking both games 30-25 to control the match two games to one.

Nelson talked about her team’s ability to cut down on errors and how that contributed to its success.

“Our offense seemed to find a rhythm,” she said. “We just really needed to focus on controlling our game and not making errors on our side of the net.”

Tied at 26 in Game 4, the Spartans’ defense reappeared. The Gophers couldn’t find a way to finish off Michigan State, losing four straight points to lose 26-30, and force a fifth game.

Roehrig stepped up for Minnesota in the final game, collecting three key kills and a block, sending the Gophers to their 10th win of the season with a 15-12 victory.

Jones and Nelson each achieved career highs in kills on the game. Jones finished the game with 22 kills and led the team with a .514 hit percentage, while Nelson led the team with 24 kills.

Hartmann sprains finger

Sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann injured her right hand while attempting a tip kill Sunday afternoon against Michigan State.

Hartmann played with the injury through two games before leaving during the fifth game.

Hartmann left the match with 72 assists, two blocks and a kill. The seriousness of the injury has not been determined.