Gophers upset Nebraska in five-set thriller

Minnesota saved two match points and won 21-19 in the fifth set, snapping a two-match losing streak.

Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team upset Nebraska in a thrilling five-set match Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

No. 14 Minnesota needed five match points to close out the fifth set 21-19, but it also saved two match points against the No. 9 Cornhuskers.

“It was a great environment today on that court. We felt good and we just went for it,” freshman outside hitter Daly Santana said. “It’s great that we had that energy, because I think that helped us a lot to just keep going and not back down.”

The Gophers and Huskers traded blowouts in the first two sets, but the third and fourth sets were much closer. After losing the third set 25-22, the Gophers rallied from an early deficit in the fourth to win it 25-19.

“There was some ebb and flow in this match, as you would expect with two good teams,” Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “We got them early, they got us next and then all of a sudden we’re going back and forth.”

McCutcheon said he was more impressed with how his team played and battled out of trouble than the win.

The win will likely raise the Gophers’ national ranking for the first time in more than a month. It also helped the Gophers tie Nebraska for second place in the Big Ten conference (12-5).

No. 2 Penn State, however, clinched the Big Ten title Friday with a sweep of Indiana.

Santana led the way for the Gophers with a career-high 17 kills. She added an ace, 10 digs and four blocks. Junior middle blocker Tori Dixon had 16 kills, two aces and seven blocks.

Junior outside hitter Ashley Wittman had 14 kills, and senior outside hitter Katherine Harms offset an subpar hitting night with strong defense (12 digs) and serving (three aces).

“I thought [Harms] had a great match, especially from the service line in that fourth game. She got a pivotal string that allowed us to get into the fifth,” McCutcheon said. “But also Daly [Santana took] the right approach from the service line, not backing down from that thing.”

McCutcheon said his team’s impressive play stemmed from the service line. He said he thought Gophers also smoothed out their passing.

Minnesota’s passing improved slightly in the third set, when sophomore Morgan Bohl made her college debut at libero, replacing struggling freshman Lindsey Lawmaster.

“Morgan has worked very hard this season and is in a position now to contribute significantly to this team,” McCutcheon said. “Lindsey was a little bit streaky.”
McCutcheon said he hadn’t yet decided which libero will start Saturday, when the Gophers host Iowa.

Dixon said she thought Minnesota did a good job neutralizing some of Nebraska’s star players Friday. Cornhuskers setter Lauren Cook caught the Gophers off-guard often in the teams’ last meeting when she killed the ball early.

“I think we handled her really well,” Dixon said. “There were some times where she got us, definitely. But for the most part, she didn’t lead her team in kills and hitting percentage so that’s a plus – unlike last time we played them.”

The Gophers’ solid serving to push Nebraska out of its system helped limit Cook, Dixon said.