Penn St. pounces on Gophers volleyball

Minnesota’s volleyball team became the 71st straight Penn State opponent to walk into Rec Hall full of hope, and the latest to walk out humbled by the Lions’ superior play.
Top-ranked Penn State pounded the No. 23 Gophers in three games Saturday night, 15-10, 15-3, 15-3, to extend its home win streak.
Minnesota (17-5, 8-2 in Big Ten) is now winless in nine matches in Happy Valley dating back to 1991.
Penn State (20-0, 10-0) contained the Gophers with a tough defense, holding Minnesota to a .045 hitting percentage.
Hitting errors were the downfall for the Gophers, who committed 34 errors to the Lions’ 15.
Gophers coach Mike Hebert didn’t blame the loss on Minnesota’s mistakes, but rather on the Lions’ strengths.
“When a team like Penn State is doing everything right, the opponent can become overwhelmed,” Hebert said.
“At the beginning of game two they took their game up a couple of notches and left us in our dust,” he said. “We never could get into any kind of rhythm.”
Junior Nicole Branagh said the Gophers were simply overmatched by the powerful Penn State team.
“We came out strong in the first game against Penn State,” Branagh said. “But then things didn’t come together (in the final two games).
“They were a very good club, but I think we could have given them better competition than we did.”
The Gophers will get another shot at Penn State next month at the Sports Pavilion.
“We look forward to having them come to our gym next time,” Branagh said.
The weekend road trip was not a complete loss for the Gophers.
Minnesota defeated a pesky Ohio State team Friday in five games, 15-5, 15-10, 11-15, 13-15, 15-9.
Hebert said he was very satisfied with the road win.
“We were ecstatic about our win at Ohio State. That is a tough place to play,” Hebert said. “With the exception of Penn State, I think all the teams in the Big Ten would be happy with a split on the road.”
Stephanie Hagen played one of her best matches against the Buckeyes (10-7, 4-6), rolling off career highs with 20 kills and 11 blocks. The Gophers out-blocked Ohio State 21-12.
Branagh credited Hagen and the other middle blockers for carrying the Gophers.
“Steph just lit up the court,” Branagh said. “The middles were able to get a lot of open shots and they had some great blocks also.”
Hebert said Hagen was the Gophers’ top offensive weapon this weekend.
“She had a monster weekend,” Hebert said, “probably her best weekend as a Gopher.”
Minnesota now finds itself at the midway point of the Big Ten season tied for second place with Illinois.
Branagh said the team is off to a good start in conference play, but isn’t finished yet.
“We still have 10 more matches to go,” Branagh said. “We are just going to keep on pushing through.”

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]