For the first two sets it looked the Spartans were going to be the first Big Ten team to beat third-ranked Minnesota this season, but Michigan State volleyball (15-9, 3-8 Big Ten) fell to the high-powered Golden Gophers (17-2, 11-0 Big Ten), who swept the match three sets to none Friday night at a packed Jenison Fieldhouse.
“I think it’s the expectation in the Big Ten that everyone is going to be good," freshman middle blocker Rebecka Poljan said. "Six of the top 12 are in the Big Ten and every night we go against someone like this. It’s not anything new. We need to rise to the occasion. Going into this, we had a totally aggressive mindset, and we saw that in game one and game two.”
In the first set the Spartans came out firing, and senior outside hitter Maddie Haggerty set the tone, earning the first two points for the Spartans, one on a kill and the other on a service ace.
Two points later, Minnesota libero Lauren Barnes service ace brought the Golden Gophers into a deadlock with MSU at 2.
On an attack error by Minnesota outside hitter Adanna Rollins, the Spartans took their biggest lead of the set at 5-2. The Golden Gophers contested the set the rest of the way, eventually taking the set-high four-point advantage of 15-11, never looking back. MSU put up a fight late, even taking a 19-18 lead, but Minnesota would later take the set 25-22.
After having all of the momentum early in the first set, the Spartans learned first hand why the Golden Gophers are ranked third in the nation, as Minnesota would eventually go on to take full control of the match.
“I think we let our foot up when we should’ve been putting it down and we weren’t as aggressive as we should’ve been,” Haggerty said about her team's start. “I think that was all on us. I think we could’ve won this match if we were a little more aggressive and a little cleaner.”
Freshman setter Elena Shklyar began a dominant second set for MSU, recording a service ace amidst four straight serves. This set was one riddled by Minnesota errors, as the Spartans stretched their lead to as large as 6 points at 14-8. Minnesota rallied late however, making the first lead change of the set at 20-19. The Spartans showed a late-set resilience once again, taking a 22-20 lead. The effort was futile, though, as a Stephanie Samedy kill finished the set in favor of the Golden Gophers at 25-23.
In the final set, Minnesota’s national prowess was apparent.
Following a 3-2 lead by freshman Naya Gros’ kill, MSU trailed the rest of the set. The Golden Gophers fully settled in, eventually commanding a match-high nine-point lead at 21-12. Minnesota outside hitter Alexis Hart put an exclamation point on the match with a kill that gave her team its 25th point and the win.
“I’m really happy that we came out and played hard against Minnesota. We have to learn how to beat nationally ranked teams,” coach Cathy George said. “They’re ranked 3rd in the country. I think it’s great that we put some pressure on them. I think that’s fantastic. But we want to win those game.”
The Spartans will look to bounce back Saturday night as they stay home to take on another top-10 opponent in No. 7 Wisconsin at 7 p.m.
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