The Gophers volleyball team dropped their first conference match of the season Sunday against rival No. 7 Wisconsin.
Wisconsin won in straight sets: 25-18, 25-14 and 25-20. Wisconsin is now the only team in the Big Ten without a loss in conference play. This also marks the Wisconsin's first win against Minnesota since 2014.
The Gophers opened the first strong. They jumped out to a 7-3 lead early off a kill by outside hitter Adanna Rollins, but Wisconsin's strength from the service line helped them weather the early Minnesota storm. They recorded three aces in the first, two coming from defensive specialist Lauren Barnes. Both of Barnes' aces came during a 7-0 Wisconsin run that gave the Badgers a 12-8 lead. A late kill by outside hitter Alexis Hart cut Wisconsin's lead to two, 20-18, but they answered with a 5-0 run to take the set.
"When they're serving tough it's much harder to play on offense," head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "They played well, it's really credit to them."
Wisconsin's serving continued to trouble the Gophers in the second. They added four more aces in the set and had eight on the match. Setter Izzy Ashburn had back-to-back aces for the Badgers, giving them a 20-9 lead. Rollins answered for the Gophers with a pair of kills late, but it wasn't enough as Wisconsin took the set by double-digits.
The Gophers looked to bounce back in the third and force Wisconsin to play a fourth. Defensive specialist Rachel Kilkelly had an early ace that gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead. The set continued to go back and forth, a successful Minnesota challenge resulted in a 9-8 lead and a kill for middle blocker Taylor Morgan. Once again, Wisconsin responded and jumped out to a 20-13 lead. The Gophers had another late flurry as Wisconsin approached set point, but it was too late. Middle blocker Dana Rettke closed out the third for the Badgers.
Wisconsin's excellent play from the service line helped them control the tempo and force Minnesota out of system. They held the Gophers to a .188 hit percentage for the match.
"I don't really think it provides challenges, I think it's a big learning opportunity for us," Morgan said of playing out of system. "Just being able to hit high, be brave up there and just working different angles from different places will also be a really good learning opportunity for us."
The Gophers will look to bounce back this weekend. They take on Northwestern on Friday and No. 17 Illinois on Saturday. Until then, it's back to work for Minnesota.
"Certainly we need to continue to work on our serving and passing. There were some good lessons learned, losing of course isn't fun, but presents a good opportunity for some lessons learned or some improvements we can make," McCutcheon said. "Some of those weaknesses were exposed and hopefully we can look to sure those up over the course of the week."