Gophers fall in four sets to No. 4 Nebraska

Minnesota won the opening set but dropped three straight after that.

Charlie Armitz

LINCOLN, Neb. âÄî ItâÄôs been a rough season for the opponents of the No. 4 Nebraska Huskers volleyball team. TheyâÄôve just been too good for most adversaries.

The No. 19 Gophers are the latest victims, after getting crushed in three consecutive sets Wednesday at the NU Coliseum after winning the first set.

With the 17-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-16 loss, Minnesota fell to 8-9 in the Big Ten (15-11 overall), while Nebraska maintained its first-place position in the conference at 15-2 (22-3 overall).

âÄúAfter the first set, we knew that Nebraska would push back and they did,âÄù Gophers interim head coach Laura Bush said. âÄúBut we also let up on our serving, which I think really helped out our offense and really restricted their defense [in the first set].

âÄúWe had a few errors to start [the second set], and then we didnâÄôt aggressively go after the serve,âÄù she said.

Nebraska made Minnesota pay for its mistakes, as it outhit the Gophers .333 to .137 in sets two, three and four and out-blocked them 12-3 during that stretch.

âÄúWe just waited for them to start giving us points instead of us pushing on them,âÄù sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman said. âÄúI think in the first set we were really good at pushing on them and playing to win instead of waiting for them to lose. In the second, third and fourth [sets], they pushed more on us, and we didnâÄôt respond correctly.âÄù

In the first set, Minnesota outhit Nebraska .308 to .105, with a 3-1 edge in blocks.

The Huskers also made nine hitting errors,  which is uncharacteristic for the team that is normally known for playing clean volleyball.

For the rest of the match, Nebraska lived up to its dominant reputation at home.

The Huskers held Wittman, who hit .429 in the first set, to a hitting percentage of .021 in the last three sets with nine attack errors.

Wittman finished with a team-high 15 kills, 11 attack errors and a .073 hitting percentage.

âÄúI think they responded on their block really well,âÄù Wittman said. âÄúThey definitely targeted me and Tori [Dixon], and they got us.âÄù

Dixon had 13 kills for the Gophers on 32 attempts âÄî the most attempts she has had since freshman Kellie McNeil took over the starting setter role.

McNeil started the first three sets Wednesday, but Bush replaced her with junior Mia Tabberson in the fourth set.

âÄúThe offense wasnâÄôt really clicking,âÄù Bush said. âÄúWe saw at the end of the second set âÄî we wanted Kellie to get more involved with the offense, and that wasnâÄôt happening. ItâÄôs not just the offense; we just needed to have a new personality.âÄù

Tabberson kept the Gophers close until midway through the fourth set when the Huskers broke an 11-11 tie with a 9-2 run.

Throughout the second, third and fourth sets, Nebraska went on long service runs that prevented Minnesota from keeping the score close. The Huskers never trailed in any of the last three sets.

âÄúThey just came at us relentlessly,âÄù senior libero Jessica Granquist said. âÄúThey didnâÄôt make as many errors, and they cleaned up their game.âÄù

Granquist had 25 digs, a Big Ten season-high, three days after Bush called out the teamâÄôs defense for being âÄúvery undisciplined.âÄù

Despite the loss, Granquist, Wittman and Bush each said the team played better than it did in SundayâÄôs 3-0 home loss to then-No. 24 Michigan.

âÄúIâÄôm happy we actually responded and didnâÄôt cave,âÄù Granquist said. âÄúWe could have caved after losing in three at home. ThatâÄôs not easy to do, and to come on the road and play Nebraska âÄî thatâÄôs hard stuff, too.âÄù

During Big Ten play, Nebraska has held opponents to less than 20 points in a set 30 times âÄî 18 times against ranked opponents (excluding fifth sets).

Iowa up next

After playing the best team in the conference, Minnesota will have two days off before playing Iowa âÄî which is tied with Indiana for the worst record in the Big Ten at 1-15 âÄî Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa.

Bush said last week that the Hawkeyes could be a dangerous team for the Gophers; however, Iowa has lost its last 32 matches to Minnesota.

The Gophers defeated the Hawkeyes 25-16, 25-14, 25-16 on Oct. 14 at the Sports Pavilion.