The Gophers volleyball team secured their sixth-straight win to improve to 17-3 (11-1 Big Ten) on the season.
Minnesota took down No. 16 Purdue in four sets: 25-23, 16-25, 25-17 and 25-19. They did so yet again without setter Kylie Miller, and for the first time without middle blocker Taylor Morgan. Both Morgan and Miller are considered day-to-day, according to head coach Hugh McCutcheon.
Purdue looked to take advantage of the Minnesota injuries early in the first, as they opened the set by taking a 7-3 lead. The Gophers quickly came back; however, as opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy tied it at nine with back-to-back kills. Starting for Morgan, middle blocker Ellie Husemann made her presence known early. She connected with outside hitter Alexis Hart for a block as the Gophers took a 17-15 lead, and she got a solo block late to extend their lead, 21-17. Minnesota closed out the first behind a kill from outside hitter Adanna Rollins.
Purdue controlled the second. They built a significant lead early, opening the set 10-3. Not much improved for the Gophers throughout the set; Purdue's Grace Cleveland recorded six kills in the second en route to her team-high 16 for the match. Rollins had three late kills for the Gophers, but Cleveland put the set away for Purdue and knotted the match at one.
At the second set break, the NCAA selection committee's first top 10 was revealed. The Gophers came in at eighth, just behind Big Ten rivals Penn State and Wisconsin, who came in at sixth and third respectively. With the conference season just past the halfway mark, the Gophers aren't worried about the rankings.
"We'll deal with that when we get to that," McCutcheon said.
The Gophers answered Purdue's dominant second with a matching performance in the third. Rollins and Hart took over for Minnesota as the Gophers opened the set 11-4. An ace by Samedy extended the Gophers lead to ten and Rollins and Hart added a few more kills before a Purdue error gave Minnesota the set and the 2-1 lead.
Minnesota and Purdue battled early in the the fourth. For the Gophers, Husemann continued to make an impact at the net. She had another solo block, giving the team an early 2-1 lead. Rollins continued to contribute for Minnesota, recording four kills on the way to a tie at 10. But, it was another late match takeover from Hart. She had back-to-back kills, giving the Gophers some separation, 13-11. She kept it going with kills to get Minnesota their 23rd and 24th points, and another Purdue error put the match away for the Gophers. Hart and Rollins led the way for Minnesota offensively, with 19 and 14 kills respectively.
"I was impressed especially as the match ebbed and flowed. Our pins all stayed in it, you look at Adanna [Rollins], [Hart], obviously [Hart] had a really big night in the end," McCutcheon said.
Behind the contributions of Rollins and Hart, the Gophers posted a .288 hit percentage against a strong blocking Purdue team.
"I think spreading the offense helps out a lot, it makes it harder for teams to react to us," Rollins said. "I think making sure we're all on point as hitters helps us a bunch."
Despite injuries, Minnesota hasn't wavered and remain a top-10 team in the country. They still only have one loss on the Big Ten season.
"It's an incredible run and it speaks to the heart, the grit, whatever cliché you want to use about this team," McCutcheon said. "Maybe they don't understand right now, but they'll look back at this team and understand what a special group it was and what a privilege it was to be a part of this team. The 2019 Gophers are a great group."