Minnesota back in Sweet 16 after win

Mark Heise

Coach Mike Hebert has been stressing that the Minnesota volleyball team needs to be more resilient this season.

After surviving a mid-match lineup change to pick up a five-game win over St. John’s on Friday, it’s looking like the Gophers have succeeded in that area.

“Last year we were in a similar situation against Tennessee and we ended up giving the match away,” senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson said. “That’s stayed with us ever since. This time around, we wanted to change and prove to ourselves that we’re a different team and we’re able to handle a little adversity.”

Minnesota (25-7 overall) began with its usual solid play, and it didn’t look like the Gophers would face any trouble.

St. John’s (31-5) allowed Minnesota to rack up 20 kills for a 30-26 win in game one.

The Gophers continued their hot streak with a .412 hit percentage in game two, running away with the 30-17 win.

Outside hitters Kyla Roehrig and Meghan Cumpston recorded nine kills apiece over the first two games to lead Minnesota.

With a 2-0 lead, it appeared the Gophers were cruising toward a three-game sweep. But the Red Storm had one surprise left.

St. John’s switched to a two-setter system in game three and it threw off the Gophers.

Trailing 13-11, the Red Storm took over, scoring nine of the next 11 points to grab a 20-15 lead. Minnesota couldn’t recover its lead, committing 10 hitting errors on its way to the 30-26 loss.

St. John’s took advantage of its newfound momentum and jumped ahead 18-10 in the fourth game. The Gophers hit a match-worst .025 and lost 30-24, allowing the Red Storm to tie the match at two games apiece.

“Up 2-0, we still knew there was plenty of volleyball left to be played,” Hebert said. “And to make matters worse, they pulled out their new lineup and it really confused us for a while.”

Minnesota didn’t have much time to correct the problem heading into the deciding game, but the Gophers rediscovered their confidence early, pulling ahead 8-4.

Minnesota held off two surges from St. John’s, retaining the lead and breaking away for the 15-12 victory.

Sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann recorded 51 assists and 11 digs and praised the seniors for their leadership in the final game.

“We were really confident in the fifth game and came out strong,” she said. “The seniors really led us and decided that we weren’t going to let this match get out of our hands. We just took care of business.”

Hartmann’s 11 digs were part of a defensive push, as three Gophers finished the match in double-digits digs.

Nelson led Minnesota with 17 kills and a .378 hit percentage, while junior middle blocker Jessy Jones added 13 kills and nine blocks.

Nelson spoke for the seniors, expressing her excitement in returning to the Sweet 16 following a one-year absence.

“We’re very excited,” she said. “And we’re already looking at Florida. We’re happy about reaching the Sweet 16 again, but we feel that we still have some work to do.

“We’re excited to get into that match and see how well we can do against a quality Florida team.”