Coming into the final weekend, the Gophers volleyball team was the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten. Although No. 3 Minnesota (25-3, 19-1) dropped one match this weekend, they bounced back Saturday — leaving a statement as the team heads into the NCAA tournament this week.
"Honestly, it kind of put into perspective that every day isn't going to be rainbows and ponies," middle blocker Taylor Morgan said. "We gotta get down in the dirt and we gotta climb."
After dropping their first Big Ten match of the season against Penn State Friday night, the Gophers rebounded and swept Rutgers in three sets in New Jersey: 25-13, 25-14 and 25-20. Minnesota was led by outside hitter Adanna Rollins, who had 11 kills and six digs in the match.
"I thought we were in control of the things we should be in control of," head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "Good serving [and] I thought our passing was good. I thought offensively we made a lot of good choices. I think we hit for pretty good numbers."
From an early 13-2 rally, Minnesota never looked back and took the opening set 25-13, which was led by a Rollins offensive surge where she made five kills.
The middle set began like the first where Minnesota started on fire: they took an early 5-1 lead after two service aces by senior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson.
The Scarlett Knights, again, couldn't do much on the offensive side of the net, as they lost the set 25-14 and had a .067 hitting percentage.
Although Rutgers fought until the end, Minnesota took the set behind Morgan's six kills in the set 25-20 — ending their regular season in hopes of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
It was a "nice performance, happy to get way with a 3-0 victory, and more importantly finish the Big Ten 19-1, it's an unbelievable season for us," McCutcheon said.
First loss in more than two months
Minnesota came into the night undefeated as they traveled to State College, Pennsylvania to match-up against No. 7 Penn State.
For Minnesota, they would leave winless for the 14th straight season in Pennsylvania as they were upset by the Nittany Lions in five sets: 25-20, 21-25, 28-30, 26-24, 12-15.
"That's a good team obviously, Penn State playing well at home in front of a good crowd, so yeah it was a lot," McCutcheon said.
The Gophers have not won at Penn State since 2004.
Minnesota was fighting for survival in the fourth set as they fell in a hole early 7-3.
Although the two teams would exchange a few points, the Gophers took the fourth set 26-24 and forced their third five-set match of the season.
Minnesota looked poised to take the match as they were ahead 5-2 early in the final set. However, after a Penn State timeout, the Nittany Lions answered and took the set 15-12.
The Gophers will find out their NCAA fate in a selection show at 7:30 p.m., on ESPN U.
"We've had the luxury of playing ... the toughest conference schedule," McCutcheon said. "I would hope we are worthy of a top-four seed; I think we've earned the right to be there."
If Minnesota gets a No. 1 seed, it could potentially host every tournament match in Minneapolis, as the final-four is being hosted at the Target Center in December.