Home winning streak extended to seven games

Mark Heise

It was home sweet home again this weekend for the Minnesota volleyball team.

The 23rd-ranked Gophers defended their perfect home record on the year winning their sixth and seventh home matches of the season.

Minnesota (13-5 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) swept Indiana Friday before ousting No. 9 Purdue in four games in front of a home crowd of 8,377 on Saturday at Williams Arena. It was the third-largest crowd in school history.

And the win over Purdue was something coach Mike Hebert said he couldn’t be more pleased with.

“To win a match like that, in that type of environment, over a team most people expected to beat us, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.

The Gophers’ offense came out of hiding for awhile on Friday night, as Minnesota hit .422 in game one and held Indiana to just eight kills in a 30-17 win. Senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman recorded seven of the team’s 23 kills.

The Hoosiers (10-9, 1-6) were still struggling in game two, hitting just .020. But Minnesota’s offense disappeared, allowing Indiana to come as close as 26-23 before the Gophers closed out the 30-24 win. Junior middle blocker Jessy Jones hit a hot streak in the game, recording three kills and seven blocks to lead the Gophers.

The Hoosiers forced extra points in the final game, thanks to 7.5 blocks from their side and a .113 hit percentage from Minnesota. Senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson recorded six of her team-high 16 kills to avoid a fourth game as the Gophers pulled out a 31-29 win.

Senior libero Malama Peniata recorded a pair of aces and 16 of the team’s 72 digs, and mentioned the team’s mid-game adjustment to Indiana’s serve as a reason for her team’s success.

“They were serving the ball deep into the court, making it hard to judge,” she said. “After one mistake, I think our passers adjusted well, and we were about to have a pretty good night of passing.”

Minnesota needed a much steadier offense in order to be successful against Purdue and it delivered. The Gophers hit .268 while holding the Boilermakers (15-4, 5-3) to a .133 hit percentage, and allowed themselves to stay competitive.

Minnesota held a lead through most of game one as senior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston and Nelson recorded six kills apiece, but Purdue overtook the Gophers, picking up a 27-24 lead and finishing off Minnesota 30-28.

Bowman stepped up for the Gophers in game two, recording eight of the team’s 24 kills and added eight digs to keep Minnesota in the lead. The Gophers led 27-20 at one point, and won 30-26 as Bowman notched four of Minnesota’s final five points.

“We knew we had to be more offensive than the first game,” Bowman said. “We needed more people to step up and take big swings for us. I found some confidence and just rolled with it.”

After pulling ahead 22-13 in game three, the Gophers allowed the Boilermakers back into the game, leading by just two, 26-24. Veteran leadership took over for Minnesota, however, as Cumpston, Bowman and Jones picked up the final four points to win another key game 30-25.

The final game belonged to the Gophers from the start, as Minnesota cruised to a 30-22 victory. Cumpston recorded six of her 22 kills, to cap off a career-high night with the Gophers. She had 24 kills while playing for Arizona in 2004. Peniata collected 11 of her 22 digs while Nelson added four kills to finish the night with 17.

“What we’ve talked about all season is establishing resilience in our team,” Nelson said. “We did that and stayed mentally focused tonight and it played a big role in our success.”