Every match gives a team a chance to prove its mettle, but the opportunities to prove your team belongs amongst the elite are especially rare.
The No. 5 Minnesota volleyball team let its big opportunity slip away on Sunday as they lost in straight sets at home to No. 1 Penn State by scores of 26-24, 25-21 and 25-14.
“They are just a very good team that makes you pay for every mistake you make,” Gophers head coach Mike Hebert said. “I was very excited about how we played in the first two sets, we were playing the number one team in the nation and we were playing them even. Penn State wore us down [in the third set]. It’s like facing a tough pitcher — after so many at-bats they just wear you out and overpower you.”
Despite losing in three sets, the Gophers (14-4 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) never looked overmatched against Penn State (18-0, 6-0) until the third set.
The first set had a total of 14 ties and five lead changes as the teams continually battled back and forth. The largest lead of the set was held by Minnesota when they took an early 7-3 lead, but the game stayed close to the very end. Minnesota fought off one Penn State set-point to tie it at 24, but the Nittany Lions won the next two points to close out the set 26-24.
Yet Minnesota didn’t lose a step. The two teams played even more evenly in the second set, with an astounding total of 19 tie scores throughout. The Gophers took seven straight 1-point leads mid-way though the game, but they could never pull away. The Gophers held a 21-20 lead, but then the Nittany Lions went on a 5-0 run to steal the victory at 25-21.
The third set, however, was not nearly as close. Minnesota took an early 5-4 lead, but then Penn State began taking advantage of a tired Gophers team, going on a 12-3 run to take a commanding lead. The Nittany Lions wouldn’t look back, going on to win the set and the match 25-14.
The match was the 82nd consecutive win for the Nittany Lions, and was also their 10 straight win over.
The Gophers remained positive after the match, pushing on after their first Big Ten loss of the season.
“We just have to keep our eyes on the prize,” junior Lauren Gibbemeyer said. “We showed glimpses of it in that match. We just have to keep pushing and cleaning up our own game. I don’t think this will have any effect on our drive [to the postseason].”
The Gophers have plenty of positives they can take away from the match, having matched the most dominant team in the country stride for stride for two sets. Minnesota’s 0.210 hitting percentage was the second highest Penn State has given up all season.
The Gophers were lead individually by Gibbemeyer, who had 13 kills and four blocks and sophomore Ariana Filho who had 10 kills.
“Minnesota is always a great opponent,” Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. “I love the way they play, I love the way they interact with each other. They do what they always do — this is a physical team that has played a number of strong teams in the early part of the season. It was a typical Big Ten match that we’ll need to be better on for the next one.”
Minnesota downs OSU
Despite the result being overshadowed by the enormity of the Penn State match, the Gophers started the weekend with a 3-1 win over Ohio State on Friday night by scores of 24-26, 25-17, 27-25 and 25-22.
Minnesota came out cold in the first set, never finding a solid rhythm to their game. Despite hanging tough, the Gophers lost the set 26-24, their first set loss in Big Ten play.
But Minnesota regained its focus after that, paying attention to the task at hand instead of looking forward to Penn State. The Buckeyes played the Gophers tough throughout the night, but Minnesota proved to be the better team, winning the last three sets to take the match three games to one.
Junior Brook Dieter tied a career high for kills with 21 on the night. She also had five blocks and four service aces. Gibbemeyer also had a solid game with 17 kills and six blocks.
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