Gophers get shot against beaten Penn State

Minnesota will play at No. 3 Penn State and No. 15 Ohio State.

Minnesota Defense Specialist Lindsey Lawmaster plays against Miami on Sept. 01, 2012 at Sports Pavilion.

Bridget Bennett

Minnesota Defense Specialist Lindsey Lawmaster plays against Miami on Sept. 01, 2012 at Sports Pavilion.

by Megan Ryan

Penn State handed the Gophers volleyball team its first Big Ten loss a month ago in a 3-0 thrashing.

At the time, the Nittany Lions were ranked No. 1 and undefeated. But the team lost last weekend to Nebraska in five sets and dropped to No. 3, proving it’s beatable.

No. 10 Minnesota, on the other hand, has won its last four matches and 12 of its last 13 sets. Its last loss also came at Nebraska — a four-set defeat Oct. 14.

But the Gophers won’t enter Friday’s away match against Penn State overconfident, freshman libero Lindsey Lawmaster said.

“Even with [it] being a five-set match, they were still very strong,” Lawmaster said of Penn State’s match against Nebraska. “It was some really good volleyball. So not by any means do I think that they are vulnerable.”

In the 3-0 loss, the Gophers dropped the second set 25-8 and struggled with receiving serves.

“They were probably one of the tougher serving teams,” Lawmaster said. “And they definitely picked apart [our] passing a little bit.”

But junior setter Alexandra Palmer said the Gophers have improved since the teams’ last meeting.

“I think we are better in the fundamental skills of the game, and I think we are better mentally in overcoming challenges,” Palmer said. “I think we just play better together as a whole.”

Penn State setter Micha Hancock ranks sixth in the nation in aces per set and is also active offensively by killing the ball on the second hit. Palmer said she doesn’t often use this tactic herself.

“I really like to go to my hitters first, but if the opportunity arises I will definitely take advantage,” Palmer said. “She saw that that was a way to attack us. … But it’s not going to work next time.”

Head coach Hugh McCutcheon said a lot of teams have the ability to “go the distance” with Penn State in five sets.

The Nittany Lions have had five matches go to five sets, including one against Illinois. They have won three of those five.

“The key for us is just to make sure that defensively we get in some good spots,” McCutcheon said, “and certainly from the offensive end make sure that we swing smart and that we don’t try and bury the ball.”

While Friday’s matchup is an eagerly awaited rematch, Sunday’s trip to Ohio State may prove to be just as exciting.

The Buckeyes jumped to No. 15 in the nation after defeating Nebraska in four sets last weekend.

“I think they’re playing very well,” McCutcheon said of Ohio State. “When we played them here, the games were all very close. So I imagine it will be another battle.”