Minnesota (26-5, 15-5) went toe to toe with Penn State (29-1, 19-1) giving them everything they had, but could not get past the veteran squad falling 29-27, 25-20, 24-26, 25-20. With the win Penn State clinched a share of the Big Ten title alongside Nebraska as both teams went 19-1 in conference play. The Gophers finish third in the conference standings behind the co-champions.
The sold-out crowd at Maturi Pavilion was treated to an incredible first set that featured big kills, big blocks, and diving saves on repeat. Minnesota held the early advantage going up 11-5 as Penn State struggled passing and couldn’t find a rhythm offensively. The veteran, Penn State squad though regrouped quickly getting back in the set. From the mid-point on, neither team led by more than two. Trading blows Penn State got to set point first after breaking a 23-all tie. Alexis Hart came up big getting the ball in serve receive then crushing it cross court the extend the set. Minnesota got to set point three times but were denied each time. Penn State closed the set on a 4-1 run. The action-packed set ended on anti-climactic play as Stephanie Samedy’s line shot just missed the sideline giving Penn State the 29-27 win. Penn State put up seven blocks during the set.
The first half of the second set was close but Penn State was able to break it open as their offense gained steam. The Nittany Lions broke a 12-all tie with a four point run. Minnesota was able to cut the lead to two once but struggled passing which forced them to rely heavily on Samedy thus making them easier to defend. Penn State hit.378 winning the set 25-20.
From the start Minnesota looked better in third set as they built themselves a six point lead, 13-7. Penn State though was down but not out steadily cutting the margin to two. Up 19-17, the Gophers got three kills from Alexis Hart over a quick 4-1 run to go up five. Penn State though answered the bell scoring five in a row including two overpass kills and free ball kill as Minnesota’s passing broke down late to tie the set at 23. Minnesota got to set point after a free ball kill from Samedy but lost the next point an error. Samedy got the kill on the next point and Brittany McLean who had sparked the Gophers earlier when she entered the set clinched the game 26-24 with a kill cross court.
Minnesota tried to carry over momentum from the third into the fourth but Haleigh Washington and Simone Lee could not be contained accounting for 17 of Penn State’s 19 kills in the set with seven and 10 respectively both hitting over .690. Penn State broke a 11-all tie with a 5-0 run with three kills from Lee. Minnesota was able to cut Penn State’s lead to three but the final margin remained at five, 25-20 as the Gophers struggled to slow down the Nittany Lions.
Haleigh Washington led Penn State with 21 kills, .514 hitting, five digs and seven blocks. Simone Lee finished with 20 kills, .273 hitting, eight digs and five blocks. Penn State hit .273 as a team and tallied 18 blocks.
Stephanie Samedy had a match-high 22 kills to go with 13 digs. Alexis Hart put away 19 kills, hitting .333. Molly Lohman was the leading blocker for the Gophers with five. Samantha Seliger-Swenson posted a double-double with 53 assists and 10 digs to go with two aces. Alyssa Goehner led the passers with 14 digs and Dalianliz Rosado pulled up 12. Minnesota hit .221 and put up eight blocks.
After the match coach McCutcheon was optimistic about his young team but said there are still lessons to learn, “We played a group that’s pretty senior heavy, there, right? And you could tell, they appreciated the value of each French fry. And we were working on it, but we haven’t had our heart broken like they’ve had their hearts broken.
He was also complimentary of the effort shown by his team, “But what you hope for is that at least you’re going to compete, and I thought our athletes did a really good job of that tonight.
Minnesota now awaits their tournament fate. The Gophers will likely host first and second round matches. Minnesota was ranked 8th in the last coaches poll and 7th last week’s RPI standings. The Gophers were 7-3 against AVCA top 25 teams although the win over then No.11 North Carolina doesn’t mean much as they went 14-14 finishing 9th in the ACC. When you include teams receiving votes in the weekly poll Minnesota was 7-5, so no bad losses. Minnesota was 14-5 against the RPI top 50, 5-4 against top 25.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will be at 8:00 CT on ESPNU.