Gophers make easy work of Michigan State at home

Minnesota swept the unranked Spartans behind Kellie McNeil’s best night to date.

Gophers outside hitter Hailey Cowles hits against Michigan State's block on Wednesday at the Sports Pavilion.

Anthony Kwan

Gophers outside hitter Hailey Cowles hits against Michigan State’s block on Wednesday at the Sports Pavilion.

Charlie Armitz

Little by little, itâÄôs coming together for the Gophers volleyball team.

No. 16 Minnesota swept unranked Michigan State on Wednesday night at the Sports Pavilion to improve to 8-7 in the Big Ten âÄî the first time the Gophers have been better than .500 in the conference since Oct. 19.

Minnesota interim head coach Laura Bush said the team didnâÄôt play as well it did against Penn State and Ohio State last weekend, but showed more consistency than in the past in its 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 win.

âÄúIt was a good-enough-to-win performance against a very underrated Michigan State team,âÄù Bush said. âÄúWe were able to capitalize on their unforced errors, and we cleaned up our game between set two and set three.âÄù

MSU (18-9, 7-8 Big Ten) committed 21 attack errors and hit .103 for the match. The Spartans hit less than .200 in each set, and never led in a set after the opening point.

Minnesota took a 10-5 lead to start each set, and never allowed MSU to make a run of more than 3 points.

âÄúMichigan State helped us out by ending some of their service runs. They could never get in a rhythm just because they would end [the runs] on their own,âÄù Bush said. âÄúBut that helped us serve the ball with some pressure to help our defense.âÄù

The Spartans had seven service errors and one ace; the Gophers had eight service errors and five aces, including four by freshman setter Kellie McNeil.

McNeil, who has started the last five matches for Minnesota, added 35 assists and three kills with no errors.

She led off MinnesotaâÄôs serving rotation in the third set âÄî a sign that Bush has confidence in the young setter to lead the team.

âÄúI thought Kellie stepped it up, especially in set three,âÄù Bush said. âÄúWe talked about all servers being able to step it up in the intermission, and Kellie answered the call. SheâÄôs been putting pressure on the service line since we put her into the rotation.âÄù

McNeil also orchestrated a balanced Minnesota attack that included five hitters with at least five kills and 10 attacks.

âÄúI think I was connecting a lot, not only with the outsides, but with [Ariana Filho] in the middle,âÄù McNeil said. âÄúI think having her there as a hitter is always helping us out.âÄù

Filho was the GophersâÄô most efficient hitter on the night with six kills in 11 attacks for a .455 hitting percentage.

Outside hitters Ashley Wittman and Katherine Harms added 11 and 10 kills, respectively.

âÄúKellie is doing a really good job of putting the ball in really great places for our hitters to go and attack it,âÄù Harms said. âÄúThe more time we have together, the better it gets.âÄù