Gophers volleyball takes down Illinois in return to play

The Minnesota volleyball team hasn’t played a match since Feb. 21, but got back on track with a couple of wins against Illinois.

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

Coming off a 19-day hiatus, the Gophers volleyball team pulled out two victories at Maturi Pavilion this weekend against Illinois.

Minnesota had not taken to the court since Feb. 21 when the team suffered its first loss of the season to Nebraska. Despite the time away from competition, the Gophers did not appear to show signs of rust and picked up two more important wins toward a potential conference title. The path to victory, however, was quite different for each match.

Minnesota wins Friday in five: 25-20,15-25, 20-25, 25-20 and 15-12

In their first match back in action, the Gophers found themselves in a five-set battle against the previously 2-8 Fighting Illini. Minnesota started out strong in the first set but dropped the second and third to fall behind 2-1 in the match.

However, the play by many Gophers all over the court helped Minnesota bounce back and take the match. Minnesota has been great in five-set matches, recording an 8-1 record in the last two seasons and a 13-2 record dating back to the 2017 season.

Freshman setter Melani Shaffmaster filled up the stat sheet in multiple categories Friday night with 42 assists, 11 digs, six kills and three aces. Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy finished the match with 18 kills and 11 digs for the Gophers. Libero C.C. McGraw added a team-high 25 digs.

Gophers sweep Saturday: 25-21, 25-23 and 25-13

The rematch Saturday was a much different story, as the Gophers won in straight sets largely because of middle blocker Regan Pittman’s play at the net. Pittman set a school record for most blocks in a three-set match with 13 and added five kills. Minnesota also held the Illini to just a .024 hitting percentage.

After winning two close sets to open the match, Minnesota dominated the third to take home another victory. Tied at 12, the Gophers closed out the set on a 13-1 run; the Gophers scored the last 10 points of the set. Samedy finished tied for a match-high with 11 kills and added nine digs, while Shaffmaster recorded 24 assists and a match-high 12 digs.

With the wins, Minnesota moves to 11-1 on the season. The next two matches will have significant conference implications, as the Gophers will travel to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on the top-ranked Badgers Thursday and then will host Wisconsin Sunday.