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Gopher Volleyball Opens Conference Play at Home

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The No. 7 Gophers start their title defense this weekend as Indiana and No. 15 Purdue come to town. After dropping two of their first three matches Minnesota has won five straight.

Jon Johnston

Minnesota heads into conference play with a 6-2 record and a win over Stanford under their belt. The Gophers host IU and Purdue this weekend as they look to get off to a winning start to Big Ten play.

Friday evening Minnesota will square off against IU at 7:00 CT on BTN+. Saturday the Boilermakers come to the Pav for a 7:00 CT match on BTN.

Weekend Preview

A big part of Minnesota’s win streak has been the play of Regan Pittman. Pittman turned her season around after getting off to an abysmal start hitting and blocking. Pittman averaged 1.67 kills per set (kps), .167 hitting, and 1.17 blocks per set (bps) through the first two matches where the Gophers went 2-2. Since the Oregon match, Pittman has posted 2.85 kps, .413, and 1.62 bps averages. Taylor Morgan has been inconsistent match to match but this stretch of high production from Pittman has carried the Gophers through. This weekend she’ll square off two high caliber middles, not to mention the importance of her blocking on the pins. If Pittman continues her great play Minnesota should be in good shape.

Key Players

class, height, position, # name, stats (statistical rank nationally, in the conference)
Positions: MB- middle blocker, OH- outside hitter, RS- right side hitter, DS- defensive specialist, L- libero, S- setter
Stats: K/S- kills/set, B/S- blocks/set, D/S- digs/set. .000- hitting percentage, A/S- assists/set SA/S- service aces/set

Fr. 5’9 DS 6 Rachel Kilkelly- 2.96 D/S

So. 5’9 L 7 CC McGraw- 4.16 D/S (5), 0.32 SA/S

Jr.. 6’2 RS 10 Stephanie Samedy- 4.48 K/S (28, 2), .259, 3.4 D/S (12), 1.04 B/S

Sr. 6’0 MB 12 Taylor Morgan- 2.16 K/S, .348 (11), 0.84 B/S

Sr. 5’11 S 15 Kylie Miller- 12.08 A/S (1, 1), 2.72 D/S, 0.36 SA/S (13)

Sr. 6’0 OH 19 Alexis Hart- 3.32 K/S, .291

So. 6’0 OH 20 Adanna Rollins- 2.44 K/S, 3.4 D/S (11)

Jr. 6’5 MB 21 Regan Pittman- 2.28 K/S, .310, 1.4 B/S (36, 3)

Indiana

This is now year two for Steve Aird at the helm of the Hoosier program. This season they’ve knocked off then-No.15 Kentucky but otherwise have struggled to put teams away even dropping matches to Santa Clara and Oklahoma, neither of which are contenders in their respective conferences. The Hoosiers (11-2) brought in a lot of new blood this season and have Kendall Beerman back from her ACL injury last season. With no standouts, the Hoosiers run a 6-2 to keep three offensive options on the floor at all times. Middle blocker, Deyshia Lofton is the most consistent performer but inconsistency from the pin hitters is holding them back. Expect the Hoosiers to play hard but it seems highly unlikely they’d have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Gophers.

Key Players

Sr. 6’0 S 1 Victoria Brisack- 5.59 A/S (12)

So. 6’2 OH 11 Breana Edwards- 3.35 K/S

Sr. 6’3 MB 13 Jacqui Armer- .343, 0.98 B/S

Fr. 5’7 L 14 Haley Armstrong- 4.23 D/S (4)

Sr. 6’2 MB 16 Deyshia Lofton- 2.61 K/S, .454 (5, 2) , 1.16 B/S (11)

Fr. 6’0 S 21 Emily Fitzner- 4.82 A/S (15), 0.25 SA/S

Jr. 6’0 OH 22 Kamryn Malloy- 2.38 D/S, 0.29 SA/S

Reserve Kari Zumach is from Buffalo, Minnesota, arriving at IU after transferring from Creighton.

Purdue

Purdue (8-1) graduated All-American Sherridan Atkinson but has found two viable replacements to split the load in outside hitter Caitlyn Newton and right side hitter Grace Cleveland who both average over three kills a set. Both play six rotations which does weaken the Boiler defense. Cleveland, in particular, is a defensive liability which the Gophers should be able to exploit, especially Samedy. One area though Purdue does not struggle with is blocking. Led by Blake Mohler, the 12th best blocker in the country statistically, Purdue has the conference’s best blocking numbers which are fifth-best in the country. The Boilers have fairly good size as every hitter is 6’1 or taller. The Gophers though have faced taller and equally skilled blocking teams already this season. Purdue will likely need to three blocks a set and Newton and Cleveland to both have low-error, high kill outputs if they are to upset Minnesota.

Key Players

So. 5’10 S 2 Hayley Bush- 10.83 A/S (31, 4) , 2.0 D/S

Jr. 6’1 OH 4 Caitlyn Newton- 3.94 K/S (6), .269

Sr. 6’2 MB 9 Shavona Cuttino- .348, 1.32 B/S (6)

So. 5’7 DS 10 Marissa Hornung- 2.97 D/S

Sr. 6’2 M 17 Blake Mohler- 2.24 K/S, .336 (14), 1.66 B/S (12, 1)

Jr. 5’10 DS 19 Jena Otec- 4.6 D/S (3), 0.49 SA/S (3)

So. 6’3 OH 20 Grace Cleveland- 3.51 K/S (12), .295, 1.06 B/S (15)

Conference Title Race

At this point, it seems like it will be between Nebraska and the Gophers. The Huskers play the softest league schedule which gives them a huge advantage. Nebraska faces only Wisconsin twice. Otherwise, they only face Minnesota and Penn State once; the Gophers in Minneapolis and Nittany Lions in Lincoln. Not to mention 10 of their 20 games are against teams in the bottom half of the preseason coaches’ poll. That said they are a very good, well-coached team. They’re the best defensive team in the league and serve tough which for them has always added up to success. Unless their offense craters, I don’t see them losing very many matches. Minnesota would have to win their lone head-to-head matchup and not slip up otherwise if they’re going to win back-to-back Big Ten Championships.

Until Wisconsin works out its problems, Nebraska, Penn State, and Minnesota are on a tier of their own. That said I’m not completely sold on Penn State. They split a series with Pittsburgh and their only other loss was to Stanford but I don’t think their offense is dynamic enough to win the Big Ten. Jonni Parker is great and so are their middles, but they get measly production from their two outside hitters. It’s hard to win if you can’t score from the left pin.

Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin, what is going on? This year and next are supposed to be your years. You have an international caliber middle blocker, a great setter, and great libero and you have yet to win at home this season. That doesn’t add up. Wisconsin’s passing and supporting cast are holding them back. The Badger pin hitters are error-prone and for as tough as the Badgers serve, third-best in the Big ten 1.61 aces per set, their passing offsets any advantage as they surrender 1.18 aces per set. The season is not lost for the Badgers but if their struggles extend into league play they’ll quickly be out of the conference race. Don’t count them out though in the National Championship conversation if they do turn things around down the stretch.

Next in line are Purdue and Illinois. Purdue has two big pin hitters and a fierce middle blocker leading them. They dropped a match to Notre Dame but otherwise have beaten then No. 16 Kentucky. If Purdue can stay focused they could break into the top four. They’re always good for upset and nearly as reliable is an inexplicable loss to someone below them in the standings. If Purdue avoids the bad loss and splits with the Gophers or Huskers they could push Illinois down the standings.

Illinois had a four match losing streak that ended with a win over then-No. 7 Marquette, but three of the four teams they lost to weren’t even ranked. The Illini are realizing how important Jordyn Poulter was to their offense.

AVCA Rankings

  1. Stanford (28)
  2. Baylor (27)
  3. Nebraska (6)
  4. Pittsburgh (1)
  5. Penn State
  6. Texas
  7. Minnesota
  8. Washington
  9. BYU (2)
  10. Marquette

(first-place votes)

Stanford is back at one even after going 1-1. They beat the Huskers in Lincoln and the lost to BYU at home. Upstart Baylor is one of only two remaining undefeated teams, them and No. 21 Cal. Wisconsin has fallen to thirteen as they have yet to win at home, 0-3, and are 4-4 on the season with all four losses coming against teams in the top 10.

Ranked Big Ten teams: #3 Nebraska, #5 Penn State, #7 Minnesota, #13 Wisconsin, #15 Purdue, #20 Illinois, RV Michigan, and RV Indiana.

Big Ten Standings

Standings Conf. Pct. Overall Pct. Most recent Big Ten Games
Standings Conf. Pct. Overall Pct. Most recent Big Ten Games
Penn State 1-0 1.000 8-2 0.800 W 3-0 vs MSU
Michigan 1-0 1.000 8-3 0.727 W 3-0 @ Rutgers
Ohio State 1-0 1.000 8-5 0.615 W 3-1 @ Maryland
Nebraska 0-0 0.000 8-1 0.889
Purdue 0-0 0.000 8-1 0.889
Indiana 0-0 0.000 11-2 0.846
Northwestern 0-0 0.000 9-3 0.750
Minnesota 0-0 0.000 6-2 0.750
Illinois 0-0 0.000 5-4 0.556
Iowa 0-0 0.000 6-5 0.545
Wisconsin 0-0 0.000 4-4 0.500
Michigan State 0-1 0.000 9-2 0.818 L 0-3 @ Penn State
Maryland 0-1 0.000 8-5 0.615 L 1-3 vs OSU
Rutgers 0-1 0.000 6-6 0.500 L 0-3 vs Michigan
Current Big Ten Standings as of 9-26

Six teams got conference play started Wednesday night.