Gophers get the better of one ranked team, fall to another

Mark Heise

The winning streak finally ended for Minnesota’s volleyball team, but the Gophers are still headed in the right direction.

Following a loss to No. 2 Penn State on Friday, No. 24 Minnesota turned around to knock off 14th-ranked Ohio State Sunday afternoon, rounding out a tough weekend on the road.

“This was the most difficult road trip of the season, traveling to Ohio State and Penn State,” coach Mike Hebert said. “I think anyone in the league would dream of coming back with a split, and that’s what we accomplished.”

Minnesota (11-5 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) accomplished more than that, forcing four games in the match against Penn State to become the first Big Ten team to win a game against the Nittany Lions this season and snapping their win streak at 43 games.

Penn State (16-0, 5-0) opened up the match with a decisive 30-24 win, using an 8-0 run partway through game one to separate itself from the Gophers. Middle blockers Jessy Jones and Meredith Nelson led the team with three kills each as Minnesota managed only 10 for the game.

The Gophers rode a six-kill effort from sophomore outside hitter Katie Vatterrodt in game two, taking a 25-15 lead late in the game.

Penn State attempted a comeback as Minnesota experienced a mini scoring drought, but fell short. The Gophers finished off the game 30-25 to hand the Nittany Lions their first home loss of the year.

“We just had to get the nerves out,” Vatterrodt said of the game. “We settled down in the second game, and came out ready to go. We knew we were good enough to play with them and we managed to pick up the win.”

Game 3 belonged to Penn State as the Nittany Lions controlled the pace from the start.

Holding the Gophers to a .105 hit percentage, Penn State posted a percentage over .400 to take the game 30-20. Nelson was a bright spot in the game, contributing five kills in the loss.

Falling behind 15-10 in game four, the Gophers rallied behind 17 team kills to pull ahead 25-23. Minnesota couldn’t force a fifth game, however, as the Nittany Lions scored seven of the last eight points to win 30-26.

But the Gophers bounced back against Ohio State (13-3, 3-3) as senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman led the way with 14 kills, 12 digs and a .542 hit percentage.

After dropping the first game 23-30, Minnesota struggled to pick up a 30-27 win. Freshman defensive specialist Christine Tan and senior libero Malama Peniata each contributed a key ace late in the game, tying the match score at one game apiece.

“We served really aggressively against Ohio State,” Bowman said. “Our ability to mix things up and throw off their defense was an important part to the match.”

The Gophers took advantage of a .280-point difference in hitting percentage to grab a decisive 30-21 Game 3 win. Minnesota out-blocked the Buckeyes 4-0 in the game and collected four service aces as well.

Game four looked to be another easy win for Minnesota as it jumped out to a 20-10 lead with an 11-2 run. Ohio State wasn’t ready to quit however, fighting its way back to trail by just one at 27-26 late in the game.

Sophomore outside hitter Kyla Roehrig came through in the clutch for the Gophers, picking up two straight kills to end the Buckeyes’ comeback attempt in the 30-28 win.

Sophomore setter Rachel Hartmann had a good weekend, collecting 91 assists, 15 digs and seven blocks over two matches, and talked about her team’s successful weekend.

“This weekend gave us a lot of confidence, being able to compete with these teams on the road,” she said. “The loss to Penn State was a little disappointing, but now we know we can play with these top teams and we’re looking forward to facing them again when we get them back at home.”