Gophers volleyball sweep Coyotes in first round of NCAA tournament

Under McCutcheon, the Gophers have never lost in the first or second round and are now 15-0 in such matches.

Sophomore+Jenna+Wenaas+spikes+the+ball+in+a+match+against+Texas+at+Maturi+Pavillion+in+Minneapolis%2C+Minn.+on+Wednesday%2C+Sept.+1%2C+2021

Brad Rempel- Gopher Athletics

Sophomore Jenna Wenaas spikes the ball in a match against Texas at Maturi Pavillion in Minneapolis, Minn. on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021

by AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

In the 26th appearance in the NCAA tournament, and ninth while under head coach Hugh McCutcheon, Minnesota went straight to work. The Gophers made quick work over South Dakota and swept the Coyotes 25-19, 25-22 and 25-17.

“We’re very happy with the win tonight and excited to advance in the tournament. We know that South Dakota’s a good team and we knew it was going to be a battle and we were very happy to come out on top so we’ll enjoy this for a little bit and onto the next one,” McCutcheon said.

First set

After surrendering the first point of the match, the Gophers went on a tear to open up to an 8-1 lead. Redshirt senior Katie Myers had three service aces during the 8-point run as Minnesota electrified the crowd.

The Coyotes didn’t back down. Immediately after Minnesota’s run, South Dakota went on a 6-0 run of its own and cut its deficit down to one at 9-8. It was a lot of back and forth between the Gophers and Coyotes as neither team could run away with the first set.

Minnesota never trailed after the first point of the set, and were finally able to regain a steady lead after a 5-0 run gave them a six-point lead at 22-16. Sophomore Jenna Wenaas was unstoppable at the end of the set. She accounted for five of the final six points for Minnesota, all off kills for a 25-19 win.

Second set

The two traded the first six points of the set before Minnesota opened the second set up with a 5-0 run for an 8-3 lead. Just like the first set, the Coyotes were not going away without a fight. South Dakota fought back and went on a 9-5 run to cut its deficit down to just one at 13-12.

The Gophers continuously were able to regain a lead once the Coyotes came close, but a 3-0 run from South Dakota tied the second set up at 17-17 for the first time since 3-3 and forced a McCutcheon timeout.

The Gophers were finally able to grab some breathing room late in the set. A 3-0 run gave them a four-point lead and put them in a great position to close out the second set. That’s exactly what they did, though South Dakota did give some fight. After the Coyotes brought it to within two, the Gophers closed out the second set 25-22 to go up 2-0.

Third set

South Dakota was able to grab an early 3-2 lead to open the set, but that was enough for McCutcheon and the Gophers. Minnesota went on an 8-2 run to take a five-point lead and force a timeout.

A 3-0 run cut the deficit to two, but Minnesota got its breathing room back. A 7-3 run put the Gophers back in the driver’s seat at 17-11 to force a timeout.

The lead continued to grow for Minnesota as they coasted past South Dakota in the third set. The Gophers completed the sweep with a 25-17.

The Gophers were able to settle down after a more sloppy first set.

“I mean this is an exciting time so I think if you’re not nervous, you’re not really into it so we were for sure nervous but once the match started and we got rolling, we were like ‘Yeah, we’re good. We’re in it,’” junior Ellie Husemannsaid on the nerves of playing in the tournament.

Senior CC McGraw did not play in the opening round, and instead junior Rachel Kilkelly was the go-to libero for the Gophers.

“I think we went about our business how we normally would. We know Rachel [Kilkelly] filled the spot just as we knew she could and Airi [Miyabe] played the position just as again, we knew she should, and I think anyone – a lot of people on our team can play every spot if we need them to. I think we kept connecting as we normally do and it’s just another night of good volleyball for us,” sophomore Melani Shaffmaster said.

Redshirt senior Stephanie Samedy led the Gophers with 13 kills, Wenaas had 10 while redshirt senior Airi Miyabe had eight. As a team, the Gophers had 10 service aces.

Looking ahead

The Gophers will face Stanford Saturday night in hopes of reaching the Madison Regional Dec. 9-11. Minnesota and Stanford met once previously in the season where the Gophers took the match in four sets, winning 3-1 as part of the Big 10/Pac-12 challenge.

Stanford took care of Iowa State in four sets right before the Gophers’ match. Redshirt Caitie Baird led the Cardinals with 22 kills in the win to go along with two service aces. Junior Kendall Kipp came in second with 20 kills, but also gave Stanford its lone double-double with 11 digs.