MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Golden Gophers passed their first test in the NCAA volleyball tournament Friday, sweeping Fairfield 25-13, 25-14, 25-11 at Maturi Pavilion.
No. 7-seeded Minnesota (24-5) held the Stags (24-6) at bay thanks to a stifling defensive performance. The Gophers racked up 10 blocks and forced 26 attack errors to earn a second-round matchup tonight against Creighton (25-5), which dispatched Iowa State in three sets in the earlier match.
“Obviously their tactic was to serve tough, and they did, they served the heck out of it,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “The fact that we were able to control the net and get some good transition and some good points scoring at the net on the defensive end certainly was one of the key aspects for us.”
Fairfield jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first set thanks to a pair of aces. Minnesota responded with an 11-2 run fueled by middle hitter Taylor Morgan, who accounted for four of the Gophers’ first seven points with a cluster of booming kills. The Gophers blockers clearly bothered the Stags as Minnesota rejected three hits, forced nine attack errors and held Fairfield to a negative hit percentage in the set.
“We can’t emulate (Minnesota’s size) in the gym. I’m too old to get up and block against them,” Fairfield head coach Todd Kress said with a laugh. “That’s obviously a tough situation for us to find in our gym and then compete against in our gym.”
The U’s strong defense continued in the second set. The Gophers notched three more blocks, and Fairfield’s attack error total ballooned to 18. The first part of the set remained tight, with Fairfield leading 10-7. Minnesota responded with another dominant run, scoring 18 of the next 22 points to close out the set.
“(I) thought we had some chances there in the second set and we just kind of panicked, we made a few errors in a row, we let them go on too many runs,” Kress said.
The Gophers closed out the match with a lopsided third set. Minnesota recorded 16 kills — its most of the three sets — and never trailed.
Sophomore outside hitter Adanna Rollins finished with a team-high 14 kills, including seven in the third set. It was her most productive night on offense since early November.
“I’ve been working a lot on my footwork in practice, and so I just really put that into the game today, so I think that’s what helped, and also Kylie’s good sets and our out-of-system sets from our defensive specialists.”
Senior setter Kylie Miller had 31 assists and 11 digs, and Morgan had five blocks. Offensively, it was a complete performance by Minnesota, which had just four attack errors and a .434 hit percentage. Three players registered eight or more kills.
“We just mesh really well together,” Morgan said. “It just felt like another day in the gym. We weren’t playing special volleyball, we were just playing Gopher volleyball, taking it one point at a time.”
Creighton finished the regular season ranked No. 15 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll and was ranked as high as No. 9 during the season. The Gophers are ranked No. 7.
“They’re a good team,” McCutcheon said. “I thought they served particularly well this evening, so we’ve got to take care of first contact, hopefully have a good plan on the defensive end and see what happens.”