MINNEAPOLIS - It's one step in a long process, but University of Minnesota volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon left Penn State satisfied last weekend after his Gophers got two big victories.
Minnesota traveled to Penn State for the Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge, and the Gophers came away with wins over No. 10 Oregon and No. 1-ranked Stanford. The Gophers lost one set over the entire weekend and return to Minneapolis the No. 7-ranked team in the country.
“It helps, no question. But the idea of continuing to build is the theme. These things are a body of work, they’re marathons, but there’s lots of sprints in between. Just trying to get a little bit better this week and excited to play at home,” McCutcheon said.
The Oregon squad Minnesota beat 3-0 is the same team the Gophers lost to last year in the NCAA Sweet 16 at Maturi Pavilion. The Cardinal are a perennial college volleyball power and entered the weekend the top program in the country.
McCutcheon warned that the season is still very young, but the two wins showed what he labeled competitive maturity amongst his players. After winning the first two sets against Stanford 27-25, the Gophers dropped the third 23-25 before winning the match in set four, 25-20.
The Gophers have won three straight matches and are 4-2 on the young season.
“Everyone is still trying to make sure they’re playing their best in December so I’m not sure we’re putting too much stock in it, but yeah I mean it’s always better to win than not,” McCutcheon said.
Stephanie Samedy was the offensive spark for the Gophers in both matches, collecting a combined 35 kills over the two matches. She had 21 in the win over Stanford. Samedy was named the AVCA National Player of the Week after the two wins.
She averaged five kills per set, added two aces, 22 digs and seven blocks.
“I think for her it was great to have that kind of a performance against that caliber of team, certainly that helps us,” McCutcheon said. ”A better her makes us better, no question.”
Regan Pittman was also named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, and Kylie Miller was named the Setter of the Week. Pittman averaged two blocks per set in the wins over Oregon and Stanford, hit .410 and had 19 kills. Miller averaged 12.5 assists per set in the two matches, and added 25 digs, two aces and five blocks.
The Gophers are moving on and returning to Maturi Pavilion for the Diet Coke Classic. They’ll face Clemson Thursday night and Oral Roberts Saturday night.
It’s the last pair of tests for the Gophers before they open Big Ten play with home matches against Indiana and Purdue.
Minnesota is 56-8 all-time in the Diet Coke Classic, which started in 1996. The Gophers’ last loss in the event came against No. 22-ranked Northern Iowa in 2010. McCutcheon wasn’t aware of his program’s success in the event, and didn’t offer an explanation.
“That’s news to me and I’ve got no idea. We just try to play hard and play the best volleyball we can, like we always do,” McCutcheon said. “For us the biggest thing is just the chance to be home and get back in The Pav and get our groove going there.”