Gophers fans got some good news on Wednesday, as sophomore libero C.C. McGraw was back in the lineup to take on Illinois.
In her first match back after missing two matches for medical reasons, McGraw helped the Gophers win their 10th-straight game and stay undefeated in Big Ten play. The Gophers took down No. 17 Illinois in four sets: 25-18, 29-27, 12-25 and 25-23.
Offensively, outside hitter Adanna Rollins led the way for the Gophers in the first. She had an early kill to give Minnesota an 8-5 lead. She had a flurry of kills late, giving the Gophers an 18-10 lead, a 19-11 lead and eventually gave Minnesota a kill that closed out the set. She had six in the set. Defensively, McGraw didn't miss a beat, making diving plays and getting Illinois out of system from the service line. She had 15 digs in the match.
"It was really fun. We came out with a lot of energy, and I was just able to easily roll back right into it," McGraw said. "It was really nice, able to have the support of my teammates. It was awesome."
Illinois looked to avoid a repeat of the first set. They opened the set 3-0 after back-to-back aces from defensive specialist Taylor Kuper. The Gophers came back as middle blocker Taylor Morgan tied the set at 10, and Minnesota started to pull away. Rollins had two kills late to get Minnesota to 22 and 23, before middle blocker Regan Pittman gave the Gophers their first set point with a kill. Minnesota led 24-17 at that point. Illinois then rattled off eight in a row to take a 25-24 lead. It didn't matter in the end for the Gophers. Morgan and Rollins combined for a block to give Minnesota a 28-27 lead and then Morgan joined with opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy on the next point for another block to take the set.
"It was big time. Those are great plays, just really proud of the team's effort and the way they were able to execute down the stretch there," head coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
It was all Illinois in the third. They jumped out to an early lead and kept their foot on the gas. Illinois' standout outside hitter Jacqueline Quade had an ace that gave the Illini a 17-8 lead. It didn't get better for the Gophers from there, Illinois took the set by a 13-point margin and forced a fourth set.
But Minnesota bounced back in a hard-fought final set. It was tight the entire way. Morgan had a kill late that gave Minnesota a 19-16 lead, but Illinois battled back to tie it at 23. However, the Gophers refused to let the match go to a fifth. Rollins' kill gave the Gophers a 24-23 lead, her 12th of the match. Pittman and outside hitter Alexis Hart combined for a block to close out the set and give the Gophers their 10th straight.
"Heck of a road win for us, we'll have a plan in place for Sunday and we'll go from there," McCutcheon said.
The Gophers take on rival Wisconsin on Sunday, Oct. 13. Wisconsin is ranked No. 7 in the nation while Minnesota is No. 6, and both teams will be entering the match with a 5-0 record in Big Ten play.
"We definitely have a lot of big matches to go, the Big Ten's a grind. We take it one match at a time. We're definitely getting ready for Sunday, so it'll be good," McGraw said.