fiThe seventh-ranked Minnesota volleyball team survived a rough first game and defeated Northwestern, 9-15, 15-9, 15-6, 15-6, at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Golden Gophers (21-1, 10-1 Big Ten) maintained a first-place tie with Wisconsin and handed the Wildcats (4-17, 1-10 Big Ten) their ninth consecutive defeat.
Nicole Branagh led Minnesota with 22 kills and hit .364 for the match. Stephanie Hagen added 20 kills at a .515 hitting percentage and led Minnesota with six blocks. Lindsey Berg directed the Gopher offense to a .375 hitting percentage with 60 assists and added two service aces. Lisa Aschenbrenner contributed her first double-double of the season with 10 kills and 13 digs.
Northwestern came out strong, scoring the first six points of the match. The Wildcats led 7-1 before Minnesota rallied with four consecutive points to cut the lead to 7-5. The teams traded points before Northwestern reasserted control with five consecutive points to take a 14-7 lead. Minnesota scored the next two points, but the Wildcats won the first game on their fourth game points. Northwestern hit .469 in the first game, a season-best against Minnesota.
Minnesota broke a 1-1 tie in the second game with seven straight points to take an 8-1 lead. Yvonne VanOort served the first three points and the final two points of the run. The Gophers eventually built a 14-6 lead, before the Wildcats rallied with the next three points. Two Hagen kills ended the second game. Branagh had nine kills and hit .500 in the second game, while Hagen added eight kills at a .700 hitting percentage.
Lindsey Berg served four consecutive points early in the third game, two on service aces, to give Minnesota a 5-1 lead. Northwestern responded with five of the next six points to tie the game, 6-6. The Gophers scored the final nine points of the game to win, 15-6. Minnesota had a balanced attack in the third game and hit .385, compared to Northwestern's .129 hitting percentage.
Minnesota wasted no time taking control of the fourth game, scoring eight of the first nine points and cruising to a 15-6 victory. The Gophers had their best offensive game of the night, earning 20 kills with just one error for a .559 hitting percentage. Branagh had five kills and Charnette Fair had four kills in the final game.
Minnesota and Wisconsin will play for sole possession of first place tonight (Saturday) at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Fieldhouse. The match will be broadcast live on radio (WDGY AM-630) in the Twin Cities.