Little by little, it’s coming together for the Gophers volleyball team.
No. 16 Minnesota swept unranked Michigan State on Wednesday night at the Sports Pavilion to improve to 8-7 in the Big Ten — the first time the Gophers have been better than .500 in the conference since Oct. 19.
Minnesota interim head coach Laura Bush said the team didn’t play as well it did against Penn State and Ohio State last weekend, but showed more consistency than in the past in its 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 win.
“It was a good-enough-to-win performance against a very underrated Michigan State team,” Bush said. “We were able to capitalize on their unforced errors, and we cleaned up our game between set two and set three.”
MSU (18-9, 7-8 Big Ten) committed 21 attack errors and hit .103 for the match. The Spartans hit less than .200 in each set, and never led in a set after the opening point.
Minnesota took a 10-5 lead to start each set, and never allowed MSU to make a run of more than 3 points.
“Michigan State helped us out by ending some of their service runs. They could never get in a rhythm just because they would end [the runs] on their own,” Bush said. “But that helped us serve the ball with some pressure to help our defense.”
The Spartans had seven service errors and one ace; the Gophers had eight service errors and five aces, including four by freshman setter Kellie McNeil.
McNeil, who has started the last five matches for Minnesota, added 35 assists and three kills with no errors.
She led off Minnesota’s serving rotation in the third set — a sign that Bush has confidence in the young setter to lead the team.
“I thought Kellie stepped it up, especially in set three,” Bush said. “We talked about all servers being able to step it up in the intermission, and Kellie answered the call. She’s been putting pressure on the service line since we put her into the rotation.”
McNeil also orchestrated a balanced Minnesota attack that included five hitters with at least five kills and 10 attacks.
“I think I was connecting a lot, not only with the outsides, but with [Ariana Filho] in the middle,” McNeil said. “I think having her there as a hitter is always helping us out.”
Filho was the Gophers’ most efficient hitter on the night with six kills in 11 attacks for a .455 hitting percentage.
Outside hitters Ashley Wittman and Katherine Harms added 11 and 10 kills, respectively.
“Kellie is doing a really good job of putting the ball in really great places for our hitters to go and attack it,” Harms said. “The more time we have together, the better it gets.”
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