Volleyball defeats Ohio State in four sets

Minnesota improved to 7-7 in the Big Ten behind 21 kills from Ashley Wittman.

Charlie Armitz

The No. 15 Gophers volleyball team defeated No. 22 Ohio State in four sets Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion, splitting its home weekend series and improving to 7-7 in the Big Ten.

Minnesota (14-9 overall) won the opening two sets 25-18 and 25-19, but labored to hold off a revived Buckeyes attack in the third and fourth sets. After losing the third set 25-22, the Gophers needed seven set points to close out Ohio State 25-23 in the fourth set.

“I think we got tight,” Bush said of the team’s finish to the fourth set. “I thought everyone in the universe knew that the ball was going to go to [sophomore outside hitter] Ashley Wittman, and they were just going to camp on her. I think we forced some things when we didn’t need to force it, and we had to take a couple of timeouts to settle us down.”

Wittman led Minnesota with 21 kills a night after she had a career-high 31 kills in a 3-2 loss to No. 6 Penn State. Wittman’s last kill came on match point.

Sophomore Tori Dixon added 14 kills, and junior Katherine Harms had seven of her 10 kills in the fourth set. Four of the Gophers’ five hitters hit .240 or higher — Hailey Cowles was the outlier at .030.

Minnesota improved its block drastically from its zero-block effort against Penn State. The Gophers had one solo block and 16 block assists, including five by Dixon.

“I think we just focused on it,” Dixon said. “We had a lot of good calls from the coaches. We followed through with the game plan.”

Bush said the team didn’t make any major changes in the blocking scheme, and that it “just blocked better.”

“We could make the same adjustments last night and Penn State wasn’t going to allow us to block them,” Bush said. “Tonight we were better at the net.”

Freshman setter Kellie McNeil had three block assists, four kills, 45 assists and nine digs in her second home start for Minnesota. She has now started four consecutive matches at setter, and for the most part, she has played consistently.

“Kellie’s still learning the setting role and her offensive options,” Bush said. “She’s getting better at it, and I thought that was the difference between the third set and the fourth set — she distributed the ball better.”

The Gophers next play Michigan State on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion.