Gophers volleyball outlasts Penn State in five

Behind Taylor Landfair and Stephanie Samedy, Minnesota completed the series sweep of the Nittany Lions to move to 8-0 in 2021.

Opposite+hitter+Stephanie+Samedy+spikes+the+ball+to+earn+a+point+for+the+Gophers+in+Maturi+Pavilion+on+Sunday%2C+Jan.+24.+The+Gophers+won+against+Michigan+State+Spartans+with+a+score+of+3-0.

Shannon Doyle

Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy spikes the ball to earn a point for the Gophers in Maturi Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 24. The Gophers won against Michigan State Spartans with a score of 3-0.

Brendan O'Brien, Sports Reporter

After playing a little over a quarter of the 2021 season, the Gophers volleyball team continues its hot start after topping conference rival Penn State in five sets 25-19, 16-25, 17-25, 25-15 and 15-10.

Recording a season-low 0.149 hitting percentage, Minnesota struggled hitting largely due to the Nittany Lions’ play at the net. Penn State recorded 14 blocks in the match Sunday.

“We know there’s going to be an ebb and flow within the match,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “During the match, we know that things might not be working now, but we have a fundamental belief that things are going to work out.”

The Gophers stayed within their system and things did eventually work out. The Gophers were still able to get production from hitters Stephanie Samedy and Taylor Landfair. Landfair had a match-high 22 kills while Samedy added 19 kills and 16 digs. Landfair’s play was especially key in closing out the final set.

“As the match went on and we established matchups … it was great to see her hit with such range. She’s such a special talent,” McCutcheon said.

Unlike Saturday night, most of the sets in the match were never in the balance. Based on how they opened the match, it looked like the Gophers might run the Nittany Lions out of the gym quickly, jumping out to a seven-point lead in set one and prompting Penn State head coach Russ Rose to call a timeout and regroup.

Rather than letting the Nittany Lions mount a comeback, Minnesota matched Penn State point-for-point and closed out the set with a C.C. McGraw ace sandwiched by two Samedy kills. The Gophers never trailed in the set.

The second set was the exact opposite story for Minnesota as the Gophers never led in the set, while Penn State had a block party at the net. Jonni Parker and Kaitlyn Hord were tough for the Gophers to handle, each recording kills and blocks on the way to an eventual seven-point lead of their own. Parker led Penn State with 21 kills and three blocks while Hord added 12 kills and 10 blocks.

After sitting out for most of the third set, Adanna Rollins was a difference-maker for the Gophers in the fourth. Down two sets to one in the match, the Gophers hit for a better percentage and rolled to force a fifth set. Five of Rollins’ nine kills came in the fourth.

“I was really impressed with her,” McCutcheon said of Rollins. “I know things weren’t going great with her, but she carries a big load for our team. Part of pulling her in the third was also to give her a breath and she seemed to respond quite well.”

Defensive specialists McGraw and Rachel Kilkelly provided the Gophers with a spark from the back row and service line all night. McGraw finished with a match-high 19 digs and added two aces while Kilkelly had 13 digs and five aces.

Minnesota’s challenging stretch through the Big Ten continues next weekend at Nebraska. The Gophers will take on the fourth-ranked Cornhuskers in Lincoln on Feb. 19 and 21.