Coming off two big wins against then No. 10 Oregon and No. 1 Stanford in the middle of September, the Gophers' Regan Pittman was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. It was a dominant performance by the middle blocker, recording seven blocks against Oregon and seven more the following night against Stanford.
Pittman's strong defensive performance continued when the Gophers returned home to take on Clemson. She recorded five blocks in a hard-fought match, and also contributed offensively with nine kills. Her performance helped Minnesota win their fourth-straight match, a streak now sitting at nine matches.
A year removed from leading the team in blocks and blocks per set, it appeared Pittman was simply building on a trend she started her first two seasons. She has a different perspective.
"As a team, we really worked on it in the spring and it's something that has not always been the best part of my game," Pittman said after the match against Clemson.
In her redshirt freshman season, Pittman was third on the team in blocks with 110. She built on that in her sophomore season, leading the team with 121 blocks and earning All-American and All-Big Ten honors. Her past success didn't stop Pittman from putting in the preseason work.
"I worked on it a ton this spring. I put a lot of effort into my blocking this spring," she said.
That hard work is paying off for Pittman and the Gophers through 12 matches this season. She leads the team with 49 blocks and has a team-high 1.26 blocks per set. Her 1.26 blocks per set ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 44th nationally. With Pittman leading the way, the Gophers' play at the net has been a factor in the team rattling off nine straight wins, including their 4-0 start to Big Ten play.
Pittman said she can see the strides her game has taken since last season.
"Yes, absolutely. I can see more, I'm able to block more, I have a lot more solo blocks," she said.
Pittman's impact for the Gophers goes beyond her strong defensive performance. She has 103 kills this season, third on the team behind outside hitter Alexis Hart and opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy. Her .397 hit percentage ranks second on the team and sixth in the Big Ten. Pittman continues to hit at a high clip, even with a shorthanded rotation that's forced her out of position the last few matches.
For Pittman, playing out of position isn't an issue.
"It's just the game of volleyball," she said. "It is what it is."
Pittman and the Gophers will need to continue to play all-around volleyball in a difficult Big Ten conference. It won't get any easier for a team with NCAA Championship aspirations.