The #4 Minnesota Gophers volleyball team started their season off on the right foot with an opening weekend sweep in the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge. Minnesota knocked off #16 Baylor 3-1 on Friday afternoon and then returned Saturday evening for a 3-0 sweep of TCU on their home floor. Minnesota’s insanely tough non-conference schedule is just beginning as the Gophers will remain in Texas and head down to Austin to face the #1 Texas Longhorns on Wednesday night.
The Gophers got off to a bit of a slow start in their season opener. Minnesota got down five points twice in the opening set and battled their way back to cut the Bears lead to 24-23, but could not score the final point and Baylor took the opening set 25-23. Minnesota tore back in set #2. The Gophers started out hot and just keep the pressure on. After starting with a 3-1 deficit, Minnesota went on a tear and the closest Baylor got the rest of the wat was at 7-5. Minnesota got three kills down the stretch from junior Jenna Wenaas to close out the set.
Set three was a much tighter affair. Taylor Landfair made her presence known in her return to action after missing most of the 2021 season with a injury. She had seven kills in the set including two of the final three Gopher points to give them a 25-23 win.
Minnesota finished strong in set four. After giving up the first point Minnesota won eight of the next nine to take a 8-2 lead before a Baylor timeout. Minnesota would go up as much as 12 points at 18-6 and had the set in control. Baylor clawed their way back a bit, but Minnesota would hold them off and get the 25-17 to close out the match.
Wenaas led the way with 17 kills for the Gophers while Landfair added 15. Freshman Carter Booth made her presence known in her collegiate debut starting at middle blocker and setting a Minnesota freshman record with 11 blocks on the night. CC McGraw led the Gophers with 10 digs, her 85ht time of having double digits in her career.Another freshman Julia Hansen also made her debut in the match recording three kills and a pair of blocks.
The Gophers returned to action the following night against a much easier opponent in TCU and it showed. The Gophers were not tested at all to a 25-17, 25-20 and 25-18 sweep. Landfair would once again record 15 kills with Wenaas and Booth each recording seven. McGraw and Landfair would tie for the team lead in digs with eight.
Minnesota featured prominently on the All-Tournament team with Landfair earning Tournament MVP honors. Setter Melani Shaffmaster, Wenaas and Booth joined her on the team. Minnesota took team honors as well after #3 Wisconsin who had defeated TCU on Friday was upset by Baylor on Saturday leaving the Gophers as the lone 2-0 team.
On Monday Minnesota earned more recognition as Shaffmaster was named the Big Ten setter of the Week. She excelled on the weekend leading all setters with 10.57 assists per set (74 assists in two matches).She tallied four kills, 44 assists, nine digs and six blocks in a win over No. 16 Baylor. and then followed that up with four kills, 30 assists, two aces and three digs in a sweep of TCU. It’s her third time in her career winning the award and the first since the Spring season of 2021.
Minnesota does not get a break in the schedule after their big weekend as they stayed in the Lone Star State and headed to Austin. Minnesota will play at new #1 Texas on Wednesday night. Texas started the season ranked #2 but went went into Columbus and swept the then #7 Ohio State Buckeyes 3-0 and 3-1 in a pair of impressive wins. The voters bumped the Longhorns up over previous #1 Nebraska in the new poll released on Monday. The Longhorns are led by outside hitter Logan Eggleston who had 33 kills in the sweep of the Buckeyes. Madisen Skinner added 26 as well. The match will begin at 7:00 PM and will air live on the Longhorn network and stream on WatchESPN.
After Wednesday’s nights daunting task the Gophers finally come home to the Pav to open the home season. Again, it’s not an easy match as the Gophers will face the #13 Florida Gators who started the season 3-0. Florida defeated Minnesota 3-1 in Gainesville a year ago. That match will be a 12:30 start and will air live on BTN.