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Minnesota Volleyball: Gophers Go 2-0 on Opening Weekend

They host #7 Texas on Tuesday night

Kylie Murr was the Big Ten Defensive PLayer of the Week
Kelly Hagenson—

The Minnesota Gophers volleyball team get their 2023 season off on the right foot with an opening weekend sweep of the Big 12 opponents in the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge at the Pav. Minnesota defeated TCU 3-1 on Friday night and swept #15 Baylor away 3-0 in Saturday’s finale. Minnesota moved up in the national rankings from #7 to #5 after their performance and will host a third huge consecutive match Tuesday night when the #7 ranked defending NCAA Champion Texas Longhorns come to the Pav.

The Gophers got off to a bit of a struggle against the Horned Frogs on Friday. Minnesota could not control their passing and could not get a block to save their lives. TCU attacked hard and got seven kills from Texas transfer Melanie Parra. Minnesota got six from Cal transfer Lydia Grote, but it would not be enough as TCU took set 1 25-20.

The Gophers got back into the swing of things in the second set. They finally figured out the block and recorded five in the set, four of them from Loyola Marymount transfer Phoebe Awoleye. Kylie Murr showed why she was the Big Ten defensive Player of the Year a season ago as she was all over the floor for Minnesota picking up eight digs in both the first two sets. Minnesota would take the second set comfortably 25-16.

The third was more of the same for the Gophers as they got four kills each from Mckenna Wucherer and Taylor Landfair to cruise to a 25-15 win. TCU fought back in set 4 taking an early lead, but the Gophers battled back to cut down the Horned Frogs. TCU was up 18-15 when the Gophers went on a 5-0 run sparked by two kills from Landfair and a solo block from Awoleye that gave Minnesota a 20-18 lead. The teams would trade points the rest of the way as Minnesota finished off TCU 25-23 and earned a 3-1 opening night win.

On Saturday it was another big match against Baylor for the Gophers. Ranked #15 in the nation they had lost 3-1 on #2 Wisconsin on Friday and needed a bounce back performance. Unfortunately for them, the Gophers were ready right away and never let them have a chance.

it would be the Wucherer show on Saturday as the Gopher sophomore had a break out weekend and showed why she was the nation’s #1 recruit in 2021. She would lead Minnesota with 14 kills on the night. She got off to a fast start earning six of those kills and hitting .545 in the opening set in leading the Gophers to a 25-20 win. Melanie Shaffmaster was on her game as well as she led the offense with 10 assists while chipping in four digs and a block while Awoleye added another four blocks.

Set two was more of the same for Minnesota as Wucherer added four more kills along with Shaffmaster and Lauren Crowl’s three each. In set three the Gophers just put the pedal to the medal and ran Baylor right out of the building. Minnesota ended the match on a 9-0 run and won 25-11 for the three set sweep and a 2-0 start to the season. Keegan Cook earned his 200th career win and second as a Gopher.

Wucherer would be named the Tournament MVP after back to back matches with 10+ kills.. Awoleye would be a blocking macine and end the night with 10 bocks of Baylor shots. She joined Wucherer on the All-Tournament team along with Shaffmaster and Murr who quietly recorded 40 digs on the weekend. Her efforts would be enough to be recognized by the Big ten and given the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award—the 5th time she would be so honored in her career and the first as a Gopher after four season at Ohio State.

The Gophers don;t get much rest as they get another huge match on Tuesday night against #7 Texas. The defending NCAA Champions opened the season ranked #1 but went 1-1 on their opening weekend losing 3-1 at Long Beach State on Friday night before sweeping Loyola Marymount on Saturday. They dropped all the way to #7 in this weeks poll.

The Longhorns are led by preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Madisen Skinner. Texas added Minnesota transfer Jenna Wenaas in the offseason as well and she will return to the Pav for the first time in orange and white instead of maroon and gold. The Longhorns missed first team All-American middle blocker Asjia O’Neil last weekend with an injury and she is questionable for the match against the Gophers on Tuesday.

Texas holds a 7-5 all-time lead over Minnesota in the series between the two schools and has won the last three including a 3-1 win in the Pav back in 2021. Minnesota’s last win was a 3-1 win in Austin back in 2017.

Tuesday night’s match is a maroon out if you have a ticket to the sold out Pav. If not the match will air live on Big Ten network at 7 PM.