Gophers start off strong, move to 9-0

After dominating the opening set, Minnesota beat the fourth-ranked Huskers to remain undefeated.

The+Gophers+huddle+to+celebrate+defeating+Oral+Roberts+three+sets+to+none+at+the+Maturi+Pavilion+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+21%2C+2019.

Kamaan Richards

The Gophers huddle to celebrate defeating Oral Roberts three sets to none at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.

Brendan O'Brien

Death, taxes and a win by the Gophers volleyball team: After starting out the season 9-0, these appear to be the only certainties in 2021. Coming into Lincoln, Nebraska, as the fifth-ranked team in the country, Minnesota took down the fourth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in four sets 25-15, 20-25, 26-24 and 25-23.

The win was by no means easy, however, and brought out visible emotions of excitement from head coach Hugh McCutcheon.

“Obviously you’re relieved. The reality of Big Ten competition – especially the way our schedule has played out is that every weekend we’re in the belly of the beast,” McCutcheon said.

It was challenging for Minnesota to be successful in multiple areas against its conference foe, but a key difference in the match was the team’s play at the net led by middle blocker Regan Pittman. Minnesota’s blocking was relatively quiet in previous matches but the team finished with a season-high 20 blocks. Pittman finished with a career-high 14.

“It was great that we were so good in that phase of the game because we were clearly struggling in others,” McCutcheon said. “For our team especially to be able to win on block and defense that’s not really something we’ve done all season.”

Outside hitter Stephanie Samedy shined once again for the Gophers, finishing with a match-high 27 kills. It was the third time in four matches the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week finished with 20 or more kills.

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“She was steady again. Night after night, she’s able to work through the ebbs and flows of the match and still find ways to help us win,” McCutcheon said of Samedy. “Offensively, she was good again but [also] good at the net and some nice serving strings as well.”

Minnesota came out strong and did not take its foot off the pedal in the first set. Difficult digs in from defensive specialists Rachel Kilkelly and C.C. McGraw held Nebraska to a .056 hitting percentage and its lowest point total in a set on the season. McGraw and Kilkelly finished with 17 and nine digs respectively.

The Gophers brought the momentum into the second set, pulling ahead off the serve of McGraw with an early 8-2 lead. But Nebraska would not go away quietly as middle blocker Lauren Stivrins heated up with six kills in the set.

Minnesota again jumped out quickly in the third set only to see that lead slip away. Serves by McGraw got the Cornhuskers out of system and kills by Samedy helped the Gophers close out the set. And after closing out the third set, Pittman and Samedy would not let the Gophers lose in the fourth.

Minnesota will have Saturday off and will play Nebraska again on Sunday afternoon.

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