Gophers defeat Iowa in 4 sets

Mia Tabberson started at setter and had 55 assists, including 33 middle-blocker kills.

Charlie Armitz

For the No. 19 Gophers volleyball team, itâÄôs been a struggle all season to get the teamâÄôs two star middle blockers involved in the offense.

In Saturday nightâÄôs win at Iowa, Mia Tabberson made it look easy.

Minnesota (16-11, 9-9 Big Ten) defeated the unranked Hawkeyes 23-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-19 in Iowa City, Iowa, to sweep the season series and extend its winning streak against Iowa (11-20, 1-17 Big Ten) to 33 matches.

Tabberson started at setter for the first time since Oct. 22, and set MinnesotaâÄôs two middles âÄî Tori Dixon and Ariana Filho âÄî a combined 66 times, resulting in 33 kills.

âÄúMia had a nice connection with both [Ariana] and Tori,âÄù Gophers interim head coach Laura Bush said. âÄúBeing able to set the middles is predicated on passing. SheâÄôs able to connect with the middles when itâÄôs not a perfect pass.âÄù

Filho had 18 kills, which tied the career-high she set earlier this season with Tabberson setting. She hit .459 in SaturdayâÄôs win with only one attack error.

âÄúItâÄôs really great that [Tabberson] has the ability to take those digs and put those in system,âÄù Filho said. âÄúShe also brings a lot of energy to the court from having more experience âÄî sheâÄôs a good captain.âÄù

Tabberson had 55 assists, her highest total of the season in a four-set match. She credited her success to the passing of senior libero Jessica Granquist, who also had 24 digs. Tabberson had 13 digs, while Hailey Cowles added a season-high 23. Minnesota out-dug Iowa 84-78 on the night.

âÄúIt was a solid night for the GophersâÄô defense,âÄù Bush said.

That marked the first time the Gophers had dropped a set to Iowa since 2008.

After Minnesota jumped ahead 8-4 in the first set, Iowa fought back to a 14-14 tie. The Hawkeyes closed the set with two straight kills after the Gophers tied the score at 23-23.

In the second, third and fourth sets, the Gophers gave Iowa no chance to build momentum. They took an early lead in each of the sets and never trailed by more than one point.

âÄúWe just decided to play Minnesota volleyball and compete,âÄù Tabberson said. âÄúThings started to go our way. In the first set we had a couple of plays that didnâÄôt go our way.âÄù

Tabberson had an ace in each of the last three sets, and now has more aces (13) than service errors (12) on the season.

She was taken out of the rotation Oct. 28 in favor of freshman setter Kellie McNeil, but McNeil struggled to set MinnesotaâÄôs middles throughout her stint, while Tabberson was solid as a backup.

The Gophers wrap up the Big Ten season next Wednesday and Friday against two unranked teams, Wisconsin and Indiana.