The Gophers volleyball team cruised past Fairfield, earning a sweep in their first match of the 2019 NCAA Tournament: 25-13, 25-14 and 25-11.
The Gophers recovered from early first set struggles that found them in a 5-2 hole, as middle blocker Taylor Morgan dropped back-to-back kills, tying the set at five. From there Minnesota took control, shutting down Fairfield's attack, taking a 12-7 lead off a kill from outside hitter Adanna Rollins. Rollins added a solo block and another kill as Minnesota extended their lead to 15-8. Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy added another pair of kills for the Gophers as they reached set point, and Rollins landed one more to close out the set. Offensively, Minnesota was excellent, recording a .478 hit percentage in the first.
Again in the second, the Gophers found themselves struggling early. Fairfield opened the set taking a 10-7 lead before the Gophers stormed back, going on an 8-0 run that was capped by a rocket of a kill from outside hitter Alexis Hart. Following the run, momentum favored the Gophers. Morgan, Samedy and Rollins all added kills for Minnesota and the Gophers continued to stifle the Fairfield offense, holding them to a -.030 hit percentage in the second.
The slow starts ended for Minnesota in the third. The Gophers opened the set on an 11-4 run and carried that momentum to victory. Rollins took over for Minnesota, adding seven kills in the third en route to a team-high 14 kills for the match.
"I just think I've been working a lot on my footwork in practice and I was able to do that in the game today," Rollins said.
It's something head coach Hugh McCutcheon has seen Rollins improve on in recent weeks.
"It's certainly been a point of focus and she's taking some of that feedback on board," he said. "Nice to see it paying dividends tonight."
Rollins' seventh kill of the set brought match point, before Hart added the final point, giving the Gophers a first round sweep and an opportunity to see another day. Defensively, the Gophers out blocked Fairfield 10-0, holding them to -.038 hit percentage on the match.
"I think it made a big difference. Their tactic was to serve tough and they did," McCutcheon said. "The fact that we were able to control the net, and get some good transition and some good points scoring on the defensive end was certainly one of the key aspects for us."
For Fairfield, the Gophers size advantage was just too much to overcome.
"We can't emulate that in our gym, I'm too old to get up and block," Fairfield head coach Todd Kress joked. "That's obviously a tough situation for us to find in our gym and then compete against."
With the win, Minnesota advances to the second round where they'll see Creighton. Creighton swept Iowa State a few hours before the Gophers followed suit. Creighton and Minnesota will face off at 8 p.m. Saturday with the winner advancing to the Sweet Sixteen to face No. 10 Florida.
"They're a good team. Certainly they sided out well, I thought they served particularly well," McCutcheon said of Creighton. "We have to take care of first contact, hopefully have a good plan on the defensive end and see what happens."