Gopher volleyball looks to bounce back from first Big Ten loss, Dig Pink night Saturday

Stephanie Samedy recorded her 1,000th career kill earlier this month for the Gophers in a 3-1 win at Rutgers. ((credit: University of Minnesota))

The University of Minnesota volleyball team is in some unfamiliar territory as it enters home matches this weekend against Northwestern and Illinois.

The Gophers are coming off their first Big Ten loss, a 3-0 sweep at Wisconsin on Sunday. It was their first conference loss since falling at Penn State, last Nov. 23. That happened to be their only conference loss of the 2018 regular season.

Coach Hugh McCutcheon said serving and passing were two of the biggest issues in the loss to the Badgers. It showed in the scores, which were 18-25, 14-25 and 20-25. And give the Badgers some credit, it was a battle of top-10 teams with Wisconsin at No. 6, and the Gophers at No. 7.

The loss snapped a 10-match win streak where the Gophers lost a total of four games. But the last thing McCutcheon is doing is panicking.

“You get the lessons learned and you move on. I mean there’s no time to wallow too much. It was what it was,” McCutcheon said. “We’ve looked at the video, we know there’s some opportunities for improvement and we’ll try to get some of those things in place before this weekend. But the hits keep coming so we’re just going to get on with it.”

McCutcheon also gave Wisconsin credit in the match. In his mind, the better team won. He’s not worried about the Gophers, who are now 11-3 on the season.

“It’s not that they don’t have any heart and it’s not that they don’t want to fight, not that they don’t want to win, not that they don’t work very hard in practice every day, all that stuff. They’re very committed, just it was what it was,” McCutcheon said.

The page turns to Friday and Saturday, as Northwestern and Illinois visit Maturi Pavilion. The Gophers are 61-19 all-time against the Wildcats. Minnesota is also coming off a 3-1 win at Illinois last week.

One of the Gophers’ top offensive weapons put her name in the history books earlier this month. Junior hitter Stephanie Samedy recorded her 1,000th career kill in a 3-1 win at Rutgers on Oct. 5. The last Gophers’ player to do that is one of her current teammates – Alexis Hart got her 1,000th career kill last November.

McCutcheon isn’t looking past Northwestern Friday night, but Saturday’s match against the Illini carries some extra meaning. It’s Dig Pink night at Maturi Pavilion, and the team will be raising money for cancer research. Fans attending are encouraged to wear pink to show support for breast cancer research.

It’s a night of perspective for McCutcheon, now in his eighth season with the Gophers.

“Cancer affects everybody, these days in the world I don’t think there are many people that don’t have a loved one or someone they know that’s been affected by the disease. In addition, I think just the importance of perspective in all this,” McCutcheon said. “Our volleyball is important and it’s a big part of what we do and we’re investing our lives in it, when you think about it we’re incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to do what we do and I think our athletes understand that, but this is another reminder that even though it’s hard and it’s difficult, it could be worse.”