Gophers volleyball suffers second loss of season to top-ranked Wisconsin

Minnesota was short-handed coming into the match and could not overcome the undefeated Badgers.

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

In one of its most highly anticipated conference matches of the regular season Sunday night, the Minnesota volleyball team suffered its second loss of the season in a four-set match: 14-25, 25-22, 15-25 and 23-25 against border rival and top-ranked Wisconsin.

The Gophers were without key cogs in the starting lineup as setter Melani Shaffmaster and libero C.C. McGraw both missed Sunday’s match due to injury. Injuries were a known issue for Minnesota after Thursday’s match against the Badgers was postponed.

Without Shaffmaster and McGraw, Minnesota appeared discombobulated early in the match. Defensively, the Gophers had troubles handling the Badgers’ serves and offensively, they could not get the ball to their dynamic hitting trio of Stephanie Samedy, Adanna Rollins and Taylor Landfair.

“We were just passive in the first set but once we knew who the scorers were, we just kept telling ourselves to keep fighting in the match,” Rollins said.

After falling handily in the first set, Rachel Kilkelly shifted the momentum the Gophers’ way. The sophomore defensive specialist was diving all over the court and strung together three aces in a row, firing up the rest of the Minnesota roster.

The energy was short-lived, however, as the Badgers came out firing on all cylinders again in the third set, recording a .444 hitting percentage while holding Minnesota below .200. With their backs against the wall in the fourth set, the Gophers would not go down without a fight. But ultimately, Wisconsin was too much to handle.

Landfair led the Gophers with 15 kills while Rollins added nine, but Samedy struggled to get into a rhythm offensively. Averaging more than four kills per set, Samedy – the Gophers’ leader in kills – finished with only seven.

“[Wisconsin] sent a lot of blockers her way, which freed up other areas of the court for us,” said Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “I’m sure Stephanie would be upset with her performance and it doesn’t live up to her standards, but it definitely wasn’t because of her effort level.”

At this time it is unclear how long Shaffmaster and McGraw will be out of the lineup. McGraw was out due to a lower-body injury and had a brace on her leg. Shaffmaster missed the match with an upper-body injury.

In the meantime, the Gophers will look for others on the roster to step up. Bayley McMenimen and Hunter Atherton split time at setter. It was McMenimen’s first start this year and Atherton’s first time seeing game action this season. Kilkelly began the match as the Gophers’ libero, but McCutcheon made a switch midway through the match with freshman outside hitter Jenna Wenaas taking over at the position. When asked how the Gophers need to adapt moving forward, McCutcheon kept it simple.

“[We have to] get to work. There’s a lot of things we can learn from tonight if this team wants to reach its hopes and dreams,” McCutcheon said.

With the loss, Minnesota’s chances of securing a Big Ten title took a significant hit. The Gophers are scheduled to play four more matches and will travel to Evanston, Illinois, next weekend to take on Northwestern.