Gophers down rival Iowa, win eighth straight

Gophers drop a set for the first time in five matches but hang on to beat the Hawkeyes on the road 3-1.

Stephanie Samedy and Regan Pittman block the ball at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

Ellen Schmidt

Stephanie Samedy and Regan Pittman block the ball at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

Nolan O'Hara

A shorthanded Gophers volleyball team picked up their eighth-straight win on Wednesday, taking down rival Iowa. 

The Gophers won in four sets: 18-25, 25-21, 25-18 and 30-28. They did so without two starters, setter Kylie Miller and libero C.C. McGraw. Miller and McGraw are both listed as day-to-day for medical reasons. 

Iowa came out firing in the first. They jumped out to a 16-6 lead early, forcing the shorthanded Minnesota team onto their toes. However, the Gophers climbed back. Defensive specialist Lauren Litzau got back-to-back aces to cut the Iowa lead to seven. They came within five twice late in the set, first coming when outside-hitter Adanna Rollins had back-to-back kills and again late in the set after middle blocker Regan Pittman’s kill left Iowa up 22-17. It wasn’t enough for Minnesota as Iowa was still able to take the set and a 1-0 lead. 

“Iowa played really well that first set, they hit .650 or something, so [it] probably didn’t matter too much what we did,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “They were great, but I think their response in the second and third especially was solid. Obviously to battle back in the fourth, that was great.”

The Gophers were ready to answer in the second. They did so with a variety of rotation changes that at times placed Pittman in the setting position. It worked for Minnesota, they opened on a 10-3 run after a kill from former Hawkeye Claire Sheehan. Sheehan had increased opportunities Wednesday against her former team, and she made the most of them. She had six kills in the match, three of which were in the second set. She got them to set point before opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy closed out the set, squaring the match at one. 

“I don’t think it was any different because we all play together in practice, so it just kind of felt comfortable,” Rollins said of the rotation adjustments. “I thought the girls that stepped in did really good and it was really comfortable, and it was helpful to have them on the court.”

Iowa was able to take an early lead in the third, but it wasn’t long before the Gophers took over. Middle blocker Ellie Husemann and Pittman combined for a pair of blocks that gave Minnesota a 10-8 lead. Husemann and Rollins combined for another block and Rollins followed the block with a kill, extending the Gophers’ lead to 13-9. Minnesota lead for the remainder of the set and took a 2-1 lead. 

It was a battle in the fourth. Minnesota opened the set with a slim lead. Middle blocker Taylor Morgan had a kill early that gave the Gophers an 11-8 lead, but that quickly disappeared as Iowa went on a 7-0 run. It wasn’t long before Iowa’s lead disappeared as well. Rollins had back-to-back kills late in the set to bring Minnesota within two. A Morgan kill tied the match at 23. Iowa had five set point opportunities late, but the Gophers answered every one until Morgan closed out the set with consecutive kills. 

“I thought the team showed a lot of composure and confidence,” McCutcheon said. “They played, as cliche as it sounds, one point at a time. We were able to create a couple point scoring opportunities late.” 

The Gophers are undefeated in Big Ten play, winning their first three matchups. They’ll play again on Saturday against Rutgers. Rutgers will be looking for their first Big Ten win of the season.