With a different formula from the last few matches, No 3 Minnesota (13-2, 7-0) picked up its seventh win to open conference play and eighth win in a row as they swept No. 7 Illinois (15-3, 4-3); 25-22, 25-19, 25-20.
For the last three matches, Minnesota has been offensively balanced and low error. Friday night that wasn’t the case but they got an explosive performance from Alexis Hart who finished with 15 kills, hitting .364.
As for the errors, Hugh wasn’t overly concerned, “It was an uncharacteristically high error performance for us. And maybe that’s just because we’ve been playing very low error volleyball, so maybe we kind of regressed to the mean. Even though it was a little choppy, I was still really proud of the way we were able to manage that, and I thought we stayed composed. We still sided-out for a really high number.
Stephanie Samedy also had a double-digit kill effort with 10. Regan Pittman nearly had double figures putting away nine kills on .444 hitting. Taylor Morgan was the Gophers leading blocker with three. Samantha Seliger-Swenson did a little bit of everything for Minnesota finishing with 41 assists, three aces, and four kills. CC McGraw posted 14 digs on the night.
Minnesota went to the middles early and often to start the match and Regan Pittman made good on the opportunity scoring six kills on 10 swings in set one. Despite Pittman’s best efforts, the Gophers weren’t able to separate themselves from the Illini til late in the set as they had some uncharacteristic errors.
Minnesota went on a quick 6-2 run, to break a 13-all tie, manufacturing their own points. Minnesota got kills from Pittman, Hart, Samantha Seliger-Swenson, and Stephanie Samedy, a Samedy-Taylor Morgan block, and a Seliger-Swenson ace. From there the Gophers answered each Illini comeback attempt as they won 25-22.
The set ended anti-climactically after Illinois decided not to challenge the call on set point. It sounded and looked like Beth Prince’s swing had caught the top of the Gopher block. Neither line judge called the touch and the Illini players immediately turned to their coach to challenge the call. Illinois Head Coach Chris Tamas seemed to ponder it for a moment; he had already lost one challenge earlier in the set. Tamas eventually decided against challenging the call and so the set ended. Had he challenged the call he would have only had one left for the rest of the match.
Samantha Seliger-Swenson was working hard in set two running down ball after ball, putting up great sets in transition, and even getting a couple kills. It really came together late for the Gophers as Seliger-Swenson fed he hot hand, Alexis Hart, to break a 15-all tie. Hart got the 8-1 run started with four consecutive kills, but the Gophers got temporarily derailed on a controversial double-contact call on Pittman who had taken the second ball. Seliger-Swenson got the Gophers back on track with a dump on the first ball. She then proceeded to dish it to Samedy, Hart, and Morgan for kills; the last to Morgan was a beautiful 31 set from the right sideline on the 10-foot line.
Hart finished the set with seven kills and after the match, she was sure to praise her setter, “Well obviously Sam’s setting a good ball I just felt like as the match went on, instead of hitting low seam, high seam was working better. I just think Sam did a really good job, holding the blockers, it was really cool to have one-on-one instead of two blockers.
Neither team started set three strong as there seven service errors in the first half of the set. Minnesota though eventually put together a a five point run to go up 17-12; Hart was key again putting away two kills and teaming with Pittman for a block with Pittman followed it up with a big overpass kill. Illinois answered back with a 5-1 run to draw within one, 18-17. The Gophers proceeded to close set out on a 7-3 run including back-to-back Illini hitting errors to close the match.
All night Illinois had struggled to pick up some balls between to players and let some drop that they could have got a touch on. This was most apparent when libero CC McGraw registered a kill after over-passing her serve receive attempt as it dropped between Illini setter Jordyn Poulter and libero Morgan O’Brien.
Illinois had used both timeouts trying to stall the Gophers five-point run early in the set and couldn’t stop the game late as Minnesota was closing in on the win. Tamas resorted to using a challenge as a timeout as the Gophers were up 21-17. Tamas used the time to speak to his team. While exhausting his challenges may have been his concern at the end of set one, he never did even after using one as a timeout.
Minnesota outhit Illinois .270-.194. No Illini hitter had more than eight kills and both outside hitters hit below .100. The Illini did have a slight blocking advantage 6-5.
The Gophers are back in action Saturday night at 7:00 on BTN+ versus Northwestern.
Bonus Hugh Quote of the Night: “Freeing ourselves of an expectation of what the outcome might be”
Freeing ourselves of an expectation of what the outcome might be, and being able to play for the moment, and being able to play to what is, was a really big opportunity for us to grow tonight.
Hugh is a very cerebral guy and has some great quips. As they happen I’ll try to pass them along; some are funny, some are insightful, nonetheless, they’re memorable.