Gophers move to first in Big Ten

The team won two matches on the road over the weekend to go to 17-3 this year.

Sophomore Molly Lohman strikes the ball at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday morning, where the Gophers defeated North Dakota State University.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Sophomore Molly Lohman strikes the ball at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday morning, where the Gophers defeated North Dakota State University.

by Emily Polglaze

Minnesota stands at first place in the Big Ten after two match victories on the road, despite starting the season unranked. 
The No. 9 Gophers (17-3, 9-1 Big Ten) defeated No. 3 Nebraska 3-1 on Friday, which is tied for the highest ranked opponent the program has defeated. 
Minnesota also defeated Iowa 3-0 on Saturday for its second match victory of the weekend.
“I think we’re playing some of our best volleyball right now,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “It’s good to see others’ perceptions of us, but we also have to focus on our perception of us, and I think we did well.”
The victor of Friday’s match would take first place in the Big Ten, and the Gophers took a 16-14 lead in the first set off of a kill from senior outside hitter Daly Santana. 
Nebraska stayed close, though, taking a 22-20 lead, but Minnesota answered back, and two Santana kills gave the Gophers a 25-23 set victory. 
The second set was also tight for the Gophers. 
Nebraska came within one at 18-17, but Minnesota pushed their lead further and earned a 25-22 set victory.
The Huskers then mounted a comeback in the third set.
The teams played back-and-forth throughout the set and were tied 24-24, but Nebraska added two kills for a 26-24 victory, spoiling a Minnesota sweep. 
The Huskers stayed close again throughout the fourth set, but two kills from junior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite closed out the set 27-25 for the Gophers and gave them a 3-1 match victory. 
Santana led the team with 23 kills in the match and junior Hannah Tapp had a .500 hitting percentage. 
The tempo of the match was a little different for Minnesota on Saturday against Iowa, as the Hawkeyes had yet to record a victory in the Big Ten.
“We knew it’d be different,” sophomore middle blocker Molly Lohman said. “We knew we’d have to bring a lot of our own energy after what we saw on Friday.” 
Minnesota started the first set trailing but came back to take the lead 5-4 and led the rest of the set. 
Two Santana kills and an ace from junior middle blocker Paige Tapp  gave the team a 25-17 set victory. 
The Gophers continued to wear the Hawkeyes down in the second set and earned a 25-15 win, with 41 percent hitting efficiency in the set. 
Iowa threatened to come back in the third set, tying the score five times and pushing the set point past 25.
The Gophers won the set 27-25 off a Wilhite kill for a 3-0 match sweep.
The Gophers are halfway through their Big Ten season after the weekend and will have to defend their top spot for another 10 matches.
“It feels good,” Santana said. “But we’ll prepare for every opponent the same way, and we still have some things to work on. We learn some things from each match.”