STATE COLLEGE, Pa. —Since August 31, 2018, NCAA Division I volleyball has pretty much been Stanford and the rest of the field.
That changed here Saturday night, when No. 8 Minnesota knocked off the top-ranked and previously undefeated Cardinal 27-25, 27-25, 23-25, 25-20 in a match that was every bit as tough as those first three set scores would indicate.
Stanford hadn’t been down 0-2 since that time more than a year ago when it lost at BYU in five. Since then, the Cardinal had won a school-record 37 matches in a row, including the NCAA title last year and the first five matches of this season.
But they were tested hard the last two times out, winning in five last week at home against Texas and then taking all Penn State could dish out Friday in a four-set victory that ended not long before midnight.
And then in a 5:30 p.m. start, Minnesota (4-2) just took it to Stanford before just a few hundred fans in Rec Hall on the Penn State campus.
“Obviously we’re really happy with the result and, maybe more importantly, the performance,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “Stanford makes you play every point, every point, every point, every point, and I thought our athletes’ composure was really good against some tough conditions against a team that’s playing really hard.”
“They had a good game plan,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “They stopped us.”
Stanford, which had beaten Minnesota the last 10 times they played, hit a season-low .185. Kathryn Plummer led with 20 kills, eight in the first set, and hit .200. She had an ace, eight digs and three blocks. Audriana Fitzmorris had 13 kills, hit .323 and had four blocks, one solo. Madeleine Gates had 10 kills two digs and six blocks, one solo. Jenna Gray had three kills, 51 assists, an ace, 12 digs and two blocks. Libero Morgan Hentz had 21 digs, six assists and two aces.
“We didn’t execute, we didn’t perform, especially on first contacts, and we weren’t great on second contacts because we were off the net the entire time,” Hambly said.
Minnesota has had an up-and-down start. The Gophers beat North Carolina, but then were upset themselves by then unranked Florida State. They lost in an excruciating three at Texas when they squandered a 24-20 second-set lead and lost 35-33 in the fourth, swept Florida, and then swept Oregon here Friday night.
Minnesota hit .247 against Stanford, which included 21 kills — six in the fourth set — by Stephanie Samedy.
“We did good as a team,” said Samedy, who also had 11 digs and six blocks, one solo. “It was a total team effort and we were focused. We made the changes we needed to and tried to execute what we could.”
Alexis Hart had 15 kills and eight digs.
“That was cool,” Hart said. “We’ve been working on so many things for so many weeks and it was cool to see it work during a game. “
Regan Pittman had 12 kills, hit .417, and added a dig and seven blocks, one solo.
“That was really fun and a good win against a really, really good team,” Pittman said.
Taylor Morgan added nine kills, hit .368, and had four blocks, and Kylie Miller had two kills, 50 assists, an ace, three blocks and 17 digs.
Libero CC McGraw had 20 digs, six assists and an ace.
“CC really did a nice job holding down the fort as a libero,” McCutcheon said. “Her growth in that role has been phenomenal.
“I thought Stephanie came along and had a very nice match with all kinds of good range. And Regan did a good job and so did Taylor. The middles held their own in there and that opened things up for the pins.”
Stanford, which has won two of the last three NCAA titles, battled point for point.
“They’re very resilient and that’s why they are what they are,” McCutcheon said.
“No doubt they had a tough weekend, playing late last night and having a short turnaround today, but we’ll take it for what it is, a good win in September and move on.”
Hambly was glad to get in two tough matches under late-season circumstances.
“We going to have to do that in an NCAA sweet 16 match, play back to back,” Hambly said. “It’s possible you could play a team like Minnesota in the sweet 16 and then have to turn around and battle. So we have to learn how to do that. The NCAA gives out some crazy match times sometimes, so, it could be exactly the same turnaround.”