The Gophers volleyball team began their final home stand with a heartbreaking loss against No. 6 Nebraska.
The Gophers lost in five sets: 22-25, 18-25, 25-19, 25-11 and 3-15. The good news for the Gophers was the return of senior setter Kylie Miller. Miller had missed a series of games and was considered day-to-day. In her return, she had 36 assists, 15 digs and a pair of kills.
"Just the idea that we were able to have everyone out there tonight I think was pretty great," head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "I thought [Miller] did a great job. I was really impressed with her coming back in."
Even in Miller's return, the Gophers were fighting from behind in the first. Nebraska opened the set on a 10-5 run, forcing Minnesota to call an early timeout. Out of the break, the Gophers answered. Middle blocker Taylor Morgan cut the lead to two with a kill to cap the Gophers 3-0 run, before Nebraska pulled away again. Defensive specialist Megan Miller landed back-to-back aces, extending their lead, 16-11. Late in the set, middle blocker Regan Pittman and opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy stopped a Nebraska attempt, cutting the lead to one, but the Gophers were unable to completely creep back, dropping a tightly contested first set.
Nebraska built on their first set momentum. They pulled away 16-10 in the second and didn't let Minnesota back in the set. Morgan and Pittman each had kills as the Gophers cut the lead back to four, but Nebraska remained steady and took the 2-0 set lead.
The tide turned in the third. This time the Gophers opened the set with a lead, as they pulled ahead 11-7 off a kill from outside hitter Alexis Hart. The Gophers kept rolling, outside hitter Adanna Rollins and Morgan stuffed a Nebraska attempt to extend their lead, 13-9, and Hart dropped back-to-back kills late to further extend the lead, 20-15. Nebraska went on one last run, but they couldn't gain any traction. Samedy closed out the third with a kill, her fourth of the match. The Gophers avoided the sweep, hitting an outstanding .412 in the set.
The momentum completely swung toward the Gophers in the fourth. Samedy and Morgan stuffed another Nebraska attempt, opening the set 6-1 and forcing an early timeout from Nebraska. Pittman extended the lead, 11-4, slamming one down off an overpass. She slammed down two more off overpasses, the first extending the Gophers lead to 10 and the second putting them up 22-10. Hart eventually put the set away to cap off a dominant performance from Minnesota. The Gophers topped their third set hit percentage, hitting .419 in the set, and were a perfect 11-11 on sideouts. After dropping the first two sets, the Gophers had stormed back, tying it 2-2.
"I think overall as a team, everyone was just more consistent and we were connecting more," said Hart of what was working better in the third and fourth sets.
"And we were just focused on Gopher volleyball," Pittman said.
Ultimately, a wild comeback was not in the stars for Minnesota. Nebraska dominated the final set, hitting a whopping .643 and limiting the Gophers to only one kill, coming off the hand of Hart. Nebraska closed the match on an 11-0 run, handing the Gophers their fifth loss of the season.
The Gophers are back in action Saturday as they close out their home schedule against Iowa.