This match brought back painful flashbacks to infamous losses, the 41-39 set with Oregon last season and more recently the 24-20 collapse in set two against Florida State. Wednesday night the Gophers squandered opportunities all match long as each successive set was more painful than the last.
Minnesota (1-2) looked worlds better than they did against FSU but it wasn’t enough as Texas (3-0) finally took advantage of the Gophers failures in crunch time. Minnesota fell 25-22, 29-27, 35-33 and was outhit .371-.328 and out-blocked 9-4.
Minnesota had nine set points in the final set after they successfully challenged an obvious call to turn a Texas match point into Minnesota’s first set point 24-23. Texas went on to save set points in a variety of ways including help from three Gopher servers who couldn’t find the court. Texas returned the favor twice during the set point exchanges but Minnesota never took advantage.
As the third set extended Minnesota ran out of subs so defensive specialist Rachel Kilkelly played across the front row. She got abused as a blocker as Texas ran the slide right over her, but Kilkelly did get an overpass kill and Minnesota even sidedout to send her back to the service line as they were up 32-31. Back at the service line she put her serve right into the net.
On the ensuing point, Taylor Morgan got stuffed to give Texas the lead. Morgan redeemed herself out of the timeout after sending the ball over on two for a kill after a ricochet from Stephanie Samedy who stuck her arm out at a free ball. Tied 33-all, Texas got a kill from Micaya White and then another on their second match point as she got a piece of the Gopher block on a ball that sailed long. Hugh challenged the call as it wasn’t obvious, but the call stood after the replay review ending the match.
Just like the FSU match, Minnesota led 24-20 in the second set but couldn’t close it out. Texas got two kills, a block, and an ace as they fought off the first four set points. At one point Minnesota had seemingly won the set 25-22 but Texas successfully challenged that Logan Eggleston’s long hit touched the Gopher block.
After Texas drew even at 24 Minnesota got a kill from Adanna Rollins which Texas answered with another kill from Eggleston and block on Alexis Hart to give the Horns their first set point. Minnesota thwarted the next two Texas set points but the Longhorns were able to string together back-to-back kills from Eggleston and White to close the set out 29-27.
Minnesota was in good shape late in the first set before collapsing albeit without squandering any set points. The Gophers were down 17-15 when they strung together back-to-back kills with back-to-back aces to go up two, 19-17. After swinging the momentum back to themselves, Minnesota flinched; the next four Texas points were some sort of Gopher error. Texas gave serve back to Minnesota with a hitting error then each team sidedout twice. Minnesota missed their serve down 23-22 giving Texas set point. Ice in her veins White ripped an ace down the seam out of the timeout closing out the set 25-22.
Texas tried their hardest to help Minnesota by committing 14 service errors to offset the Gopher’s 12 errors of their own. The Longhorns posted six aces and Minnesota had four, two by Kylie Miler. Losing your top two servers hurts, but that shouldn’t have caused a spike in errors. Minnesota is usually a low-error serving team but Wednesday night, Rollins, who is not particularly aggressive had three errors and three others had two errors. No Gopher has a topspin serve or serves with significant pace. They have to exert better service pressure without giving away points; so many Wednesday night were not close to dropping in or went into the net.
Minnesota was balanced offensively with four hitters having nine or more kills and hitting over .250. Samedy led the way with 14 and .312 followed by Rollins- 13 and .257, Hart- 11 and .429, and Morgan- 9 and .368. The connection between Regan Pittman and setter Kylie Miller is clearly not there yet as Pittman had a 4-2-10 line (K-E-A, .200). Miller finished with 41 assists and was locating better as the match wore on although she was predictable at times and didn’t move it around enough as she’d go in streaks of seemingly only setting one hitter.
Despite the respectable hitting numbers, there is plenty to be desired of the Gopher hitters. None of them showed any killer instinct or moxie to go for it on set point. While being low-error is commendable you can’t beat top teams by being conservative. There are times when you have to swing away, take a risk, and not tip or roll shot the ball. No one did that down the stretch for the Gophers and so they find themselves coming home with the loss.
Another concern is the lack of blocking. Our leading blocker with three was right side hitter Samedy. Pittman and Morgan were hardly a factor blocking on either pin. Texas only had one hitter who hit below .300. Eggleston, who finished with 15 kills and .467 hitting percentage, had no trouble putting the ball away, neither did Skylar Fields or either middle blocker on the slide. Even White who had six of Texas’ nine hitting errors led all scorers with 16 kills.
Serve receive was far from perfect but the floor defense was equally suspect. Minnesota could not pick up tips even when it was the only available shot like it was on the final point of set two. Also of note was that DS Kilkelly led Minnesota with 12 digs. Rollins too, ten digs, beat out CC McGraw who finished with nine digs. A weak block doesn’t make CC’s job any easier but she has to get to more balls and lead the defenders. Too often there was confusion as to who should be where and whose ball it was.
There is plenty to improve upon and Minnesota will be better come December because of this match but they’ll have to regroup quickly. Saturday at 7:00 CT on BTN+ the Gophers host No 7 Florida.