Nelson sets NCAA record in weekend sweep

Mark Heise

With a strong performance to grab a pair of three-game sweeps over Illinois and Northwestern, the Minnesota volleyball team may have quieted some of its doubters.

Senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson seemed to consider the recent struggles as over with, calling the strong play over the weekend a sign.

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“We worked hard in practice, and I think it showed in our matches,” she said. “We’re just looking to continue improving every night that we go out and play. I think both of these matches were signs that we’ve been improving and that we’ll be able to continue that.”

The Gophers started things off Friday against the Illini and took advantage of poor passing by Illinois, leading to easy opportunities and a 30-22 first-game win.

Minnesota (19-7 overall, 13-3 Big Ten) had five players with three kills in the first game and held the Illini to a .091 hit percentage.

Illinois (14-12, 5-11) couldn’t find a way to stop junior middle blocker Jessy Jones in game two, as she provided six kills in six attempts to lead Minnesota to a 30-24 win.

Jones finished with 11 kills and a .588 hit percentage, but credited the passing and setting game.

“Honestly, when I have a good night, it’s because of (setter) Rachel (Hartmann),” she said. “Our passing and setting was terrific and that made things a lot easier on all of our hitters.”

The Gophers finished the match strong to win 30-23 as Jones led the way with 11 kills while Nelson and senior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston added 10 kills apiece.

“We did a lot of things well,” coach Mike Hebert said. “We corrected the defensive breakdown from last week and we beat them in the passing game.”

Minnesota had another good night Saturday as the Gophers surged past Northwestern in three games as well.

Cumpston had a solid showing in the first game, recording six kills, five digs, two aces and two blocks to lead Minnesota through the closest game of the match. Trailing 23-21, the Gophers overpowered the Wildcats with a 9-1 run, picking up a 30-24 win.

Nelson was the story of game two, setting an NCAA record in the process. Minnesota led by a slim 7-4 margin when Nelson came up to serve. Eighteen serves later, Minnesota led 25-4 and went on to win 30-11.

Nelson served four aces during her 18-0 service run – the longest service run in NCAA history. Northwestern (13-12, 7-9), scored 19 points while serving over the course of the entire match.

Sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig recorded three of her team-leading 12 kills and two of her five blocks as Minnesota cruised to a 30-17 victory in game three.

Senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman collected her 1,000th career dig in a 15-dig effort, helping the Gophers to hold Northwestern to a .008 hitting percentage in the match.

“Our chief focus this week was our defense,” Hebert said. “I thought both Kelly and Rachel Hartmann played terrifically – probably the best they’ve played as a tandem all season.”