In the first game of their return to the Maturi Pavilion for a four-match homestand, the No. 12 Gophers volleyball team defeated Northwestern 25–20, 25–10, 25–14 to win their season series.
“I thought it was a really impressive performance from our team,” said Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon. “The way we were at having control over the bulk of the match, I thought it was impressive. I thought we were able to set the tone early, especially in the first set. He made some good plays, and We were able to weather the storm.”
The first six points of the match were split equally between the Gophers (10-5, 5-2 Big Ten) and the Wildcats (7-11, 2-5). However, Minnesota quickly found its footing.
The Gophers entered the race to six points early as they took a 9–3 lead over Northwestern. Despite several back-and-forth points, the Gophers’ lead never went below three points.
Redshirt senior Ari Miyabe and sophomore Jenna Venas quickly set the tone for the Gophers’ attack as both scored five goals in the first set. Redshirt senior Stephanie Sammy led the defensive end with five digs and three blocks.
“I think we started off strong,” Venus said. “We set the pace and kept it, which I think was also really important that we were able to keep going.”
The Gophers trailed Northwestern 4-2 at the start of the second set, but they were quickly back in form as they went on three separate runs that combined for a 13-2 run, giving them Got a 15-6 lead in the middle of the set.
After much back-and-forth action, the Gophers extended their lead from 18-9 to 23-9 on the fourth run of three or more points in the second set. He closed the set after a Northwestern service error and the murder of junior Shea Rubright.
The Gophers got points from a variety of attackers in set two. Sammy led the attack with three kills, while Venas, Miyabe and Redshirt senior Katie Myers all added two.
“(With the outside/contrast), the middles were good too,” McCutcheon said. “We got them involved, and it really opens up space for everyone. Once the middle becomes a viable threat, it suddenly becomes easier (for everyone else).”
Senior CC McGraw led the Gophers with eight digs in set two. Sammy added four digs, and Rubright had two blocks.
Minnesota continued to dominate Northwestern in the third set. The Gophers took an 11-4 lead by 9-2 runs. He ended the third set on 9-5.
This match was very different from their first meeting 11 days back. Northwestern won the first two games of their match in Evanston, Ill., but the Gophers came back with a 31–29 victory in the fourth set to win the final set 15–7.
On Wednesday, the Gophers continued to put pressure on them as point streaks defined their victory.
“We were able to put it on them,” McCutcheon said. “I think there’s a tendency when you think you can slacken a little, but the team didn’t. They stayed locked in.”
Sammy posted his 54th career double-double after 10 kills and 12 digs, adding four blocks, an assist and a service ace.
Venas delivered an excellent all-round performance with seven kills, four digs, three blocks and one assist.
Miyabe led the attack with 11 kills, while on defense McGraw had 15 digs and Rubright had six blocks.
The Gophers hosted Indiana at 2 p.m. Sunday, then closed the homestand the following weekend with Friday’s match against No. 14 Penn State and Sunday’s match against No. 8 Ohio State.