The Minnesota Gophers volleyball team pulled out another crazy five set come-from-behind win out of their hat Thursday afternoon and will now play for a trip to the NCAA Volleyball Final Four on Saturday night in Madison against arch rival Wisconsin. It will be the third match this season between the Big Ten powers, with the Badgers winning the first two. But everyone knows the old adage about beating a team three times in one year.
The Gophers and Bears played a tight back and forth first set. Both teams swapped small leads and Minnesota actually had two set points at 24-23 and 25-24 to try and put it away, but were set back both times by spectacular play by Baylor All-American Yossiana Pressley. Her nine kills in the first set pushed the tone and Baylor would take the first set 28-26.
Minnesota came back in the second right out of the gate. They jumped out to a 6-2 lead and then after a Baylor run the U would go on a 501 run to extend the lead to 13-7. Minnesota got key kills from Airi Miyabe, and Jenna Wenass and two huge blocks by setter Melanie Shaffmaster. The Bears would make a run at the end and cut the Gopher lead to two at one point, but they could not overcome seven service errors and Minnesota took set two 25-22.
Baylor came out hot right out of the break in set three just like the Gophers did in the second set. Baylor jumped out to a 6-1 lead, and while Minnesota would cut the lead to two at a few times in the set, they just could not claw back all the way falling 25-20 in the third.
Minnesota had been in this situation several times this season but never with their season on the line. Could they come back from down 2-1 once again? Baylor seemed to be trying to end Minnesota’s season when they took a 804 lead and Hugh McCutcheon had to call time out. Minnesota could claw back to within one before another 3-0 run but Baylor up 14-10 and had the Gophers season on life-support. Miyabe earned three kills in a row to cut it to 14-13, and after Baylor made it 15-13, the Gophers went on the run that would save their season. Minnesota went on a 6-0 rally with a pair of kills from Stephanie Samedy and a huge block by Ellie Husemann. Baylor though would not give up. They found one more run of their own to retake the lead at 22-21 before the service game would be the difference. Baylor committed yet another service error and Katie Myers followed that up with a Minnesota ace to retake a 23-22 lead. A return error set up a massive slam by Samedy for the final kill and Minnesota took set four 25-23.
Thus it was the first to 15 for the right to keep playing. Loser goes home. Myers started off the fifth set with yet another ace, but Baylor would storm back into the lead 5-2. Minnesota took a timeout and once again went on a season saving 5-0 run that featured a kill by Samedy, a block by Husemann, and a huge ace by Rachel Kilkelly. The teams went back and forth and with the set tied at ten Minnesota would go on one final push. Wenaas went on a tear down the stretch with two of the final five kills including one that may live in Gopher NCAA lore for some time.
JENNA WENAAS FROM THE PIPE! pic.twitter.com/O3eRSoiksG— Minnesota Volleyball (@GopherVBall) December 9, 2021
Baylor mishit the final point and Minnesota rushed the court after a 15-10 set five win and a trip back to the Elite 8 for the first time in three seasons.
Miyabe led the Gophers with 18 kills in the match, with Samedy adding 16, and Wenass 13. Samedy went over 2,000 career kills in the match and now has 2,014 , becoming the fourth Gopher ever to reach 2,000 for her career. She’s the second Big Ten athlete in history to record 2,000 career kills and 1,500 digs.
And after Wisconsin easily swept UCLA in the evening match, Big Ten volleyball got the matchup they wanted all along. #12 Minnesota vs #4 Wisconsin for a trip to the Final Four.
We will have a full preview of that match later here at TDG.