Gophers volleyball sweeps Spartans in season opener

After a 401-day hiatus, Minnesota took down Michigan State to open up the Big Ten season opener in three sets.

Outside hitter Stephanie Samedy spikes the ball at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. The Gophers swept South Carolina in all three sets.

Ellen Schmidt

Outside hitter Stephanie Samedy spikes the ball at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. The Gophers swept South Carolina in all three sets.

Brendan O'Brien, Sports Reporter

In what is normally home to loud, passionate Minnesota volleyball fans, it was Michigan State’s bench that could be heard and felt early in an abnormally empty Maturi Pavilion.

The Spartans’ energy persisted throughout the match, but it was the Gophers’ talent that came out on top in the season opener, winning its first match in 401 days in straight sets: 25-18, 26-24 and 25-16.

“It’s a little surreal, honestly. The idea of competition has been very theoretical for a long time,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “And it was just great to get back in the saddle.”

Minnesota traded points with Michigan State throughout the early portion of the first set before breaking through thanks to six kills from junior outside hitter Adanna Rollins and 10 assists from freshman setter Melani Shaffmaster.

Michigan State led handily throughout the second set, bringing more energy and less errors than Minnesota early on. But the Gophers battled back from an eight-point deficit in the set and took their first lead in the set at 23-22. Minnesota eventually closed out the set with back-to-back kills by senior outside hitter Stephanie Samedy.

“One of the strengths of this group is the depth,” McCutcheon said on what he thought was key to the second set comeback. “What that means is that one, if we need to make changes we can make changes [and] two, our team is used to having to grind in practice because it’s hard everyday.”

The comeback in the second set propelled Minnesota to a dominant performance in the final set. The Gophers came out sharp to take a 17-7 lead and eventually took care of business with a block party from middle blockers Regan Pittman and Katie Myers.

Rollins finished the day with a team-leading 15 kills and added nine digs. Shaffmaster led the Gophers with 29 assists and added six digs in her first career start for Minnesota. Samedy, an AVCA second team All-American last season, added nine kills and five digs.

Minnesota has not lost to the Spartans since September of 2017. The Gophers will look to extend that winning streak and close out the season series against Michigan State Sunday in Minneapolis at 3:00 p.m.