By Mike Malloy for VolleyballMag.com
LINCOLN, Nebraska — Minnesota remains a statistical oddity following perhaps its biggest win of the season in which it took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
The fifth-ranked Gophers won at No. 3 Nebraska 25-20, 23-25, 25-14, 25-21 Saturday continuing to do what they have done much of the season: Hit well, defend even better, and struggle to make aces.
Minnesota is 12-2 overall and now alone at the top of the B1G at 6-0. The Gophers had four aces — three from Stephanie Samedy and one from CC McGraw — and six errors. Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins had her team’s only ace, while the Huskers (14-2, 5-1) had six errors.
Minnesota entered Saturday with 56 aces, tied for 302nd nationally (out of 334 teams) with less-notable programs Binghamton, Central Michigan, UTEP, and Cleveland State.
Minnesota, however, had committed just 53 service errors. The NCAA doesn’t track ratio of aces-to-errors but most teams, including the best, are underwater. Third-ranked Nebraska, for example, ended Saturday with 104 aces and 138 errors. Minnesota, now with 60 aces and 59 errors, is the only Big 10 team with more hits than misses in its serving game.
Fifty-nine, though, might appear to be too low a number, meaning that Minnesota doesn’t serve aggressively enough to knock teams out of rhythm. That wasn’t the case Saturday, Nebraska coach John Cook said.
“They served Mikaela (Foecke) a lot of balls and she struggled, and Hayley (Densberger) struggled, Lexi (Sun) held her own for a while but…when we get one or two passers breaking down it affects everybody,” Cook said.
Nebraska had numerous over-passes while other bad digs resulted in weak swings. The Cornhuskers hit .194, their second-worst number of the season. Minnesota hit .280 with big nights from Adanna Rollins and Taylor Morgan.
“We like aces, but we don’t need them,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “We’re not getting too many, but we’re killing it at a pretty good number.”
Rollins led Minnesota with 17 kills. She hit .150 but had nine digs and four blocks. Morgan had 13 kills, hit .500, and had two digs and four blocks. Alexis Hart had 11 kills, two digs and a block, and Samedy had 10 kills, hit .396, had 18 digs and a block. And Pittman had nine kills, hit .333, and had a dig and three blocks.
Foecke led Nebraska with 16 kills and had six digs. Jazz Sweet had 13 kills but hit .114. She had a dig and four blocks, one solo. Sun had 12 kills, 15 digs and four blocks, one solo, and Stivrins had 10 kills, a dig and five blocks.
Nebraska had 11 blocks – the most against Minnesota all season – but an out-of-sorts offense led to some eye-widening stat lines. Sweet, who entered the match hitting .293, had eight errors. Foecke hit .239, .099 below her average, and Sun was also off-pace, hitting .205 after posting a .242 average coming in.
Minnesota has been killing it in every sense during its seven-match winning streak, which includes three wins against top-10 teams. After splitting two tight sets, Minnesota rolled through the third with an 11-0 run, highlighted by a rare breakthrough on the service line. Samedy had consecutive aces during the surge, and jumped as much in disbelief as in joy after the second.
“I was just trying to knock them out of system,” Samedy said. “We don’t have to rely on aces. We make digs, we get kills; there’s a lot of things we can do.”
Samedy, a sophomore, now has 11 aces for the season and 15 in her career.
“A couple of them are tough servers, but the other ones just put it in play,” Cook said. “We were serving lollipops.”
Cook, who always takes losses hard, perhaps because there have only been 71 in his 19 seasons in Lincoln, seemed particularly down Saturday. His team gets another shot at Minnesota in two weeks in Minneapolis.
“We got punched and didn’t respond,” Cook said. “I mean, you get beat 25-14 game three.
“That’s not responding. You can’t take plays off, you can’t blow assignments, and you can’t make three errors in a row … we’re not good enough to play consistently long enough to beat a team like Minnesota.”