Multifaceted Minnesota making it look easy in the brutal Big Ten
Talk about your statement wins.
They sold some 400 standing-room-only tickets on Saturday night for Nebraska's NCAA volleyball game against Minnesota in Lincoln, a clash of top-five teams and the only unbeatens in the Big Ten.
Now the Golden Gophers (12-2, 6-0) are sitting alone atop volleyball's toughest conference.
In winning 3-1 on the Huskers' home court for only the second time in 38 years, the Gophers looked very much like a final four-bound team. The party culminates at Target Center in Minneapolis, a nine-minute drive from campus.
Since dropping its season opener to Florida, Nebraska (14-2, 5-1) looked like Nebraska frequently looks. The Huskers handed both Michigan and Illinois their first losses of the season. They came into Saturday's match having held 10 consecutive opponents hitting .160 or less. They'd won 14 straight.
But before the second-largest crowd of the season, the Huskers fell flat, dominated at times by Minnesota, which ran away with the third set 25-14 after Nebraska tied the match 1-1. For the final two sets, Minnesota's precision contrasted with Nebraska's lack of it. The Gophers had an 11-0 run in the third set and an 11-6 start in the fourth set.
"They outworked and outserved and [out]passed us in our own gym. Normally we outwill teams, especially at home. They outwilled us," Huskers coach John Cook said.
The multifaceted Minnesota offensive attack is led by a setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, and it kept Nebraska scrambling, out of system and overhitting.
"They've got a great setter in Sam, who makes them look really good and takes bad passes and makes them look really good," Cook said. "They never feel like they're under stress over there. I feel like we were under stress the whole night."
Seliger-Swenson finished with 45 assists and 14 digs. The senior punctuated the night with a dump at match point for her sixth kill on seven attempts. All-America outsider hitters Alexis Hart (11 kills) and Stephanie Samedy (10 kills) got theirs, but how about the firepower from Adanna Rollins and Taylor Morgan?
The freshman Rollins finished with 17 kills on a career-best 60 attempts. The 6-foot Texas Gatorade volleyball player of the year has started every match this season and proved again how unflappable she is against the sport's heavies. Her 17 kills are a career-best, one more than she produced at Stanford on Sept. 9 after hitting .571.
Meanwhile, Morgan continues to put up staggering numbers. The 6-foot middle blocker, a redshirt junior, has hit .300 or better for her last six matches. That includes a .923 effort at Indiana, .563 at Northwestern and .500 against the Huskers with a season-best 13 kills.
Defensively, Minnesota was marvelous, holding the Huskers to a .194 hitting percentage, it was the sixth time in the last seven matches that the Gophers held an opponent to below .200.
Minnesota's middle blockers combined for 22 kills to Nebraska's 11. The Gophers outdug the Huskers 77-63.
The Gophers served well, too, with four aces, three by Samedy.
"We were serving lollipops, and we weren't passing the ball and we weren't ballhandling at the level Minnesota was," Cook said.
This is the Big Ten, so one early October win is just that. But Minnesota plays its next three at home and has already swept Penn State and Wisconsin. Nebraska enters a daunting stretch of schedule with five of its next seven matches against top-10 opponents. That includes a rematch in Minneapolis on Oct. 20.
Minnesota, which advanced to the final four in 2015 and 2016, is looking more and more like a team that won't be packing a suitcase this postseason.
Elsewhere in college volleyball last week:
• Minnesota wasn't the only Big Ten team to make waves last week. Iowa (11-6, 3-3) upset Wisconsin (11-3, 4-2) in five, its first win over the Badgers since 2009.
• What a weekend for Oregon (11-5, 4-2). The Ducks didn't drop a set in Los Angeles, topping UCLA (8-5, 3-3) and USC (12-5, 4-2).
• Pitt is 17-0 after handing Syracuse (9-5, 5-1) its first ACC loss followed by a sweep of Boston College (12-6, 2-4).