Conference title chances nearly gone with loss

With the loss, the Gophers fall two games behind Penn State in the Big Ten.

Mark Heise

If there was any hope of a conference title left for Minnesota’s volleyball team, it died over the weekend.

The Gophers needed a sweep over the weekend, but split matches on their Michigan trip, defeating Michigan State 3-0 on Friday before losing to Michigan 3-1 on Saturday.

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WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Sports Pavilion

The loss put Minnesota two matches behind conference-leading Penn State with just six matches remaining.

Coach Mike Hebert conceded that the conference race was all but over, but was already looking past the loss to the Wolverines.

“Now we have a choice to make. We can think about the Michigan match and analyze what we did wrong, or we could take it as just something that happened, an outlier,” he said. “That’s how we prefer to look at it.”

Minnesota (17-7 overall, 11-3 Big Ten) began the weekend strong, overpowering a solid Michigan State squad for the decisive three-game win.

The Gophers started the match with a 30-16 win and followed with a pair of 30-25 victories.

Senior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston recorded 15 kills and senior middle blocker Meredith Nelson added 11 kills and five blocks, hitting .500 on the night.

Minnesota doubled the Spartans’ hit percentage, out-hitting them .263 to .131.

Sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann contributed 41 assists and two service aces, and said she was happy with her team’s effort on Friday.

“We just had a lot of confidence going into the match,” she said. “We stuck with the game plan and did everything really well that night.”

Just 24 hours after the win over a statistically stronger Michigan State (15-9, 6-8), the Gophers struggled to find an answer for the Wolverines.

Michigan junior outside hitters Katie Bruzdzinski and Lyndsay Miller led the way in the four-game win with 21 and 19 kills, respectively.

The Wolverines (18-9, 5-9) posted a .368 hit percentage against Minnesota’s usually stellar defense, compared to the Gophers’ .230 hit percentage. Michigan’s percentage was the highest of any team that has played against the Gophers this season.

Minnesota took the first game 30-27, as Nelson recorded six kills and three aces to lead her team.

Games two and three got out of hand early on, as the Wolverines cruised to 30-23 and 30-20 wins. The fourth game remained close thanks in part to six kills from Cumpston and the Gophers led 22-21. But Michigan surged ahead, avoiding the fifth game with the 30-26 win.

Junior middle blocker Jessy Jones led the Gophers with 14 kills and three blocks, while Hartmann added four kills, nine digs and 51 assists.

Nelson recorded 12 kills and a .357 percentage and called the Gophers’ third conference loss strange.

“I think that it was strange because we played so well defensively against Michigan State and then last night against Michigan our defense was what hurt us,” she said. “We didn’t make the plays we needed to make, and that led to a poor outcome in the match.”

Nelson gets milestone

With her only block of the match on Saturday, Nelson recorded her 500th career block, becoming only the third player in school history to reach the milestone. Nelson reached the 1000-kill mark earlier in the season.