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Gopher Volleyball Opens with Two Wins

Minnesota kicked their season off at the Target Center where they picked up wins over Florida State and North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Gopher Athletics

Minnesota (2-0) fought hard both nights to pick up their first two wins of the season. The Gophers earned a sweep over Florida State (0-2) Friday night then need an extra set to get past the Tar Heels (0-2) Saturday night.

Minnesota was put to the test in their first match of the season coming up with a hard-earned sweep, 25-17, 25-21, 25-21, over Florida State.

Minnesota was ready from the start hitting .361 over the first set, led by Stephanie Samedy’s six kills on twelve swings with no errors. Minnesota gave themselves a nice lead after breaking a 7-all tie with a 6-1 run. The Gophers got two kills from Jasmyn Martin, and one a piece from Samedy and Taylor Morgan; Samantha Seliger-Swenson also served up an ace as the Seminoles struggled to sideout. Florida State never got within less than three the rest of the way and the Gophers closed the set on a 6-3 run.

The defensive intensity was ratcheted up in the second set as neither team surrendered any easy points with numerous diving one handed saves on both sides. The Gophers closed the set on a 6-2 run to break a 19-all tie. The Gopher run was jump started by two Florida State errors then Regan Pittman and company controlled the rest of the way. Pitman combined with Samedy, Alexis Hart, and Seliger-Swenson each on blocks then finished the set off with her fifth kill of the game.

A 6-0 run, which included three Seliger-Swenson aces, in the early going of the third set put the Gophers in front by ten, 16-6. It appeared Minnesota would cruise to the finish but they lost their composure for a second toward the end of the third set which gave Florida State new life. Up, 23-14, Jasmyn Martin slipped on the floor transitioning off the net, when the ball got her sent towards Martin, CC McGraw tripped over her sending Florida State a free ball which they converted on. Coach McCutcheon called a timeout because of the collision. Out of the timeout, FSU ran off four straight points, two kills and two blocks, forcing another Minnesota timeout. The Gophers got a first ball kill from Martin out of the timeout and she clinched the match two points later with another first ball kill, 25-21.

Samedy led the Gophers with 14 kills. Jasmyn Martin also reached double digit kills with 11, hitting .385. Middles, Taylor Morgan and Regan Pittman both posted eight kills; Morgan led defensively with four blocks. Seliger-Swenson finished with a double-double, 35 assists and 13 digs to go with five aces. CC McGraw had 13 digs and two aces in her Gopher debut wearing the libero jersey. Minnesota outhit and out-blocked Florida State .268-.190 and 8-6 respectively.

Saturday night, Minnesota got all they could handle from a scrappy North Carolina squad who had them on the ropes in each of the three last sets. Coach McCutcheon had some praise for the North Carolina squad who he thought served and defended well, “It was a pretty gritty win; I mean it wasn’t easy. North Carolina played really well and I think you would expect that. They obviously weren’t at their best yesterday. So clearly they had something to prove tonight, and I thought they performed at a very high level.” The Gophers won the match in four sets, 25-16, 26-24, 28-30, 25-23.

Minnesota got outstanding performances from sophomores Regan Pittman and Stephanie Samedy. Pittman put away 17 kills on 28 attempts with only three errors (.500) to go with six blocks. Samedy racked up a double-double with 20 kills and 10 digs to go with four blocks; she hit .333 on the night.

Most importantly Samedy was the hero for Minnesota in the fourth set. Down 22-18 Minnesota ripped off a 7-1 run to close the match. Samedy used just about every shot in her arsenal as she saved the Gophers from a fifth and deciding set.

Jasmyn Martin and Taylor Morgan started the run with a big block on North Carolina’s star freshman, outside Destiny Cox. Then Samedy took over. Seliger-Swenson said it was an easy decision deciding who to give the ball to at the end of the match, “She was doing really well so I just kept giving her the ball, and she just kept putting it away.”

Taking advantage of weak blocking by the Tar Heels she put down the first two of her five kills to close the match. Then Samedy tied the set at 22 on a deft, nasty tip that she tooled right off the outside blockers hands. She smoked the next one cross court and Lauren Barnes dropped in an ace out of the North Carolina timeout to get Minnesota their first match point.

North Carolina finally sided out with a first ball kill off the hands of the Minnesota block. With another chance Minnesota didn’t mess around feeding Samedy as she tooled the block one last time for good measure giving Minnesota the 25-23 win.

An error prone set for the Tar Heels propelled Minnesota to easy win in the first set. Minnesota limited the Tar Heels to only -.182 hitting percentage posting five and a half blocks including a beautiful triple block to close the set. The game got broke open by a seven-point Gopher run which put them in front 16-7. Minnesota didn’t have to manufacture any points for themselves hardly as UNC committed six errors during the run.

North Carolina cleaned up the errors and it was a completely different match in the second set. Minnesota was forced to defend more as UNC applied the pressure and didn’t surrender any easy points. Minnesota didn’t hold the lead til nearly halfway through the set, 14-13, and then they didn’t hold it for long as UNC took the lead back, 17-16. North Carolina held off Minnesota for a bit leading 23-20 on the brink of a set point. Then Minnesota came storming back.

Samedy started it off with a kill which was followed by a stuff block by Alexis Hart and Regan Pittman of UNC’s setter dump. Cox registered a kill to give her team set point, 24-22. This also rotated Cox to the back row and North Carolina struggled without their go to hitter in the front row. Pittman put down an overpass kill then Coach Hugh McCutcheon went to his bench to fortify the Gopher block. Freshman, middle blocker Paulina Swider and sophomore, setter Sara Nielsen came in and rose the occasion helping Minnesota close the set. Swider replaced Samantha Seliger-Swenson along the net and Nielsen went to the service line in lieu of Stephanie Samedy. Swider teamed with Alexis Hart for a block then Nielsen set Pittman up for back-to-back kills to clinch the set, 26-24.

A late, furious rally got the Tar Heels back in the match in the third set. Minnesota did fight back and get themselves three match points they couldn’t hold off the resilient North Carolina squad. Up 20-16, Minnesota committed a handful of uncharacteristic hitting errors which propelled North Carolina on a seven-point run. North Carolina got to set point, 24-22, which prompted the double substitution again, and again it paid dividends as Swider combined with Pittman and Hart on a triple block then Nielsen served up an ace. Coach McCutcheon was complimentary after the match, “They did their job, and obviously they were able to do it under pretty pressure-filled circumstances. Those two have earned the right to be there.”

Pittman tried her hardest to carry Minnesota over the finish line putting away back-to-back kills before sailing her next attempt long. She redeemed herself on the next point with a solo stuff to give Minnesota their second match point, 27-26. The Tar Heels got a kill then the teams exchanged service errors. North Carolina finally closed the set with a kill and a service ace that fell off the tape, 30-28.

Seliger-Swenson also had a double-double for the Gophers with 46 assists and 10 digs. CC McGraw led the defense with 16 digs. Minnesota tallied 17 blocks as a team led by Taylor Mogan’s nine; Jasmyn Martin and Alexis Hart both finished with four. Minnesota outhit North Carolina .240-.164.

Destiny Cox led the Tar Heels with a double-double, 22 kills and 15 digs. Setter, Nebraska transfer, Hunter Atherton also posted a double-double 44 assists and 11 digs. Libero Mia Fradenburg led the Tar Heel defense with 17 digs. North Carolina had 10.5 blocks as a team.

Four different players took swings played the left pin for Minnesota Saturday night and none overly impressed Coach McCutcheon, “You know as good as the competition is on the left side we need better production over there. I think, you know, all of them were okay, but no one was great on the left, and this game is pretty much won and lost on the left.” Jasmyn Martin had eight kills and four errors on 26 swings (.154), Adanna Rollins couldn’t convert on her two attempts, Claire Sheehan’s one attempt was blocked, and Alexis Hart posted a negative hitting percentage and only three kills for the second night in a row; she hit -.125 against FSU and -.034 against UNC. These were the first negative hitting performances of the Third-Team All-American’s career. Fortunate for all the pin hitters they should be able to get plenty of reps this weekend against some weaker competition.

Hugh also noted there’s room for improvement defensively, “Well I think defensive discipline, is certainly a big thing. I think we can be a good defensive team, I really do. I think tonight our blocking was obviously a little bit better. Back row, I think we missed a few opportunities, you know just by not having the discipline to stand there and make the right play.”

Opposite of Minnesota, Wisconsin swept North Carolina and Friday night and needed four sets to get past Florida State on Saturday.

AVCA Poll Week 1

  1. Stanford (57)
  2. Texas (7)
  3. Minnesota
  4. Florida
  5. Nebraska

6. Penn State

8. Wisconsin

11. Illinois

20. Purdue

23. Michigan

RV Michigan State, Ohio State

Minnesota will be back in action Friday night at 7:00 P.M. in the Pav against North Dakota State. Saturday they’ll take on Georgia Southern at 10:00 A.M. and Arkansas at 7:00 P.M. All matches will be available on BTN+.