Minnesota (27-4, 19-1) came out on fire in set one, but things fell apart for the Gophers after they came up short in a marathon second set. “It’s disappointing obviously for a lot of reasons,” said Gopher Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon, “From my perspective this group has worked incredibly hard and deserved the chance to compete at the end of this thing, but that’s not going to be our lot in life, so we got to deal with what is and move on.”
Minnesota lost 25-21, 39-41, 14-25, 24-26. Oregon (23-10, 13-7) came to play and won every statistical category in the four-set win.
Oregon was able to execute their game plan better than the Gophers. The Ducks served and passed well. Offensively they stretched the Gophers out then took advantage of the open space in the middle of the floor, “We really wanted to push tempo, push the speed of our offense and widen the court, spread it out as much as possible, said Oregon Head Coach Matt Ulmer, “Then once we felt like we established that then we’d come back to the middle.”
The fact Minnesota hadn’t seen an offense like the Duck’s was also a factor according to Samantha Seliger-Swenson, “They run a very unique offense. They have a lot of people running at random places. It’s fast and people flying around. At times we were just not picking up on the hitter in our zone as blockers. We weren’t in the best defensive spaces. It’s a good offense, they hit well.”
The Ducks’ defense was also dialed in, “I think we just were really disciplined,” remarked setter August Raskie, “We stayed in our positions in the back row and kept calm… There was just something about us tonight, we just decided we were going to hold our positions. And everything we’ve been working on we decided to put that all together tonight. This is stuff coach has been begging us to do for the entire season, and it just so happened to click tonight.”
Minnesota hit .465 in set one outdoing Oregon’s .333 effort. The Gophers broke a 7-all tie with a 7-1 run getting kills from Alexis Hart, Stephanie Samedy, and Taylor Morgan in addition to two blocks as they hit the ground running. Oregon cut the margin to two, 15-13 with a 5-1 run but Minnesota got back into their sideout rhythm siding out on each Duck serve as they finished the set with a 3-1 run.
There were 17 set points in the second set as it went the distance and more. Neither team held anything back offensively, Oregon had 32 kills hitting .293 while Minnesota put away 25 kills hitting .339. Neither team did the other many favors as only three set points were saved by an error. To add to the drama there were three challenges after Minnesota got the first set point.
Oregon had the first challenge in the last half of the set as Taylor Morgan put down an overpass kill that appeared to be live after ricocheting off a Duck’s foot, the refs disagreed so Minnesota got its first set point, 24-23. Later a Gopher challenge swung took a set point away from the Ducks. Tie game at 32-all, the ball was initially called down on the Gophers side off a joust at the net. Hugh, using his last challenge, won the appeal as replay revealed Samantha Seliger-Swenson did get the pancake dig. They replayed the point and the Gophers got a kill from Adanna Rollins to go up 33-32.
The last challenge of the set was the most devastating. Minnesota had seemingly won the set 39-37 after another Seliger-Swenson pancake dig had extended a rally. Oregon challenged the call, successfully reverting the score to a 38-all tie. Stephanie Samedy got a kill on the next point but Minnesota couldn’t convert the set point as Oregon got a kill. Out of substitutions for the set, the Ducks were forced to play 5’9 defensive specialist Brooke Van Sickle across the front row in lieu of 6’4 Taylor Borup. Van Sickle came up big putting away the last two points of the set on out of system swings as the Ducks won 41-39. “She stepped up and was pretty fearless,” said Ulmer.
Minnesota never recovered after the second set having lost their edge. “I think winning the second set was important for us and for them,” said Ulmer. “They had a hard time responding to that and we just got a little more confidence, the crowd got a little more quieter. We just kept going, kept pushing,”
Seliger-Swenson who was at the center of the two late challenges was particularly frustrated with the calls after the match, “It was disappointing thinking that we had that in the bag.”
Oregon opened the third set with three consecutive blocks, one solo, as they scored the first five points of the set forcing a Minnesota timeout. “They figured out our tendencies… We were just hitting low,” said Taylor Morgan.
Oregon extended their lead to 10-2 and further throughout the set as they sidedout on 12 of 14 attempts. What could have simply been a rough start spiraled as Minnesota committed mental mistakes and was not locked in the third set. “We got our hearts broken a little bit,” said Hugh, “and it took us a while to recover.”
Minnesota showed some fight in the fourth set but came up just short. The Gophers scored the first four points to take the early advantage. Oregon though put together a run midway through the set to get the lead. A 7-1 Ducks run, four kills and three blocks, put Oregon in front 16-14. Minnesota answered later with a five-point run which featured a solo stuff from Regan Pittman and CC McGraw ace to go up 22-19.
Later, Minnesota was on the doorstep of a set point, 23-21, after Rollins took one down the line. Oregon responded with a kill and a block to draw even. Twenty-three-all, after Oregon dug Rollins three times then Pittman’s slide attack sailed long giving the Ducks match point. Rolins got a little redemption putting one away to give the Gophers an extra life. On the ensuing point, Rollins’ serve sailed just long giving Oregon its second match point. Minnesota couldn’t score on the first ball and Oregon got the ball to Ronika Stone who put it away in transition closing out the match 26-24.
Alexis Hart led the Gophers with 20 kills hitting .340. Stephanie Samedy had 17 kills and a team-leading 24 digs. Adanna Rollins posted a double-double with 14 kills and 13 digs. Regan Pittman recorded 12 kills hitting .290. Taylor Morgan was the Gophers’ leading blocker with five. Samantha Seliger-Swenson had a double-double in her final game in the Maroon and Gold with 55 assists and 10 digs. CC McGraw posted 18 digs and two aces to close out her freshman campaign. Lauren Barnes finished with 13 digs.
Ronika Stone led the Ducks with 20 kills, .500 hitting, and five blocks. Setter August Raskie tallied a triple-double with 60 assists, 10 kills, and 11 digs. Freshman libero Brooke Nuneviller had a match-high 25 digs and three aces.
Oregon Head Coach Matt Ulmer was effusive in his praise of the crowd on hand at the Pav Friday evening, “What a great place to play! I thought the fans were phenomenal, so loud, really courteous, good people. It’s a great place to play. We’re happy to be here.”
Oregon faces Nebraska in the regional final Saturday at 5:00 CT on ESPNU with a spot in the Final Four on the line.