The 19th-ranked Minnesota volleyball team saw its back-to-back Big Ten title hopes dashed as it fell to No. 11 Penn State in four games by scores of 30-19, 30-26, 27-30, 30-24 on Friday, Nov. 28 in front of 4,658 fans, the fifth-largest crowd to watch a volleyball match at the Sports Pavilion. With the victory and an Illinois loss tonight, Penn State won the 2003 Big Ten title outright, snapping the Golden Gophers chance at a second straight conference title.
It also snapped the Golden Gophers 13-match home-winning streak.
Despite the loss, Minnesota's Paula Gentil (Fortleaza Ceara', Brazil) set a school record for digs in a single match by a Golden Gopher with 33.
Penn State jumped out to an early 9-7 lead in game one, but extended it to 15-7 with a 6-0 run. Minnesota would cut the lead to 20-14, but that was as close as the Golden Gophers got as the Nittany Lions scored 10 of the next 15 points to take game one 30-19. Penn State outhit Minnesota .275 to .098, and outblocked the Golden Gophers 4.0 to 1.0. Erin Martin (Ames, Iowa) tallied a game-high five kills for Minnesota.
In game two the Nittany Lions jumped out to an early 18-12 lead. Penn State led by as much as seven at 23-16, but the Golden Gophers scored six of the next seven points to cut the lead to 24-22. After the two teams exchanged points to make it 25-23, the Nittany Lions delivered three straight points to slow down the Golden Gophers momentum to make the score 28-23. Trisha Bratford (Reseda, Calif.) and Jessica Byrnes (Minnetonka, Minn.) delivered back-to-back kills to cut the lead to 28-25, but Penn State answered by scoring two of the next three points to close out the game at 30-26 to take a 2-0 lead in the match. Penn State tallied 24 kills in the game to 16 for Minnesota. Bratford had a game-high five kills for the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota fell behind early in game three 17-14. However, the Golden Gophers answered with six of the next seven points to take a 20-18 lead. Penn State came right back with three straight points to take the lead at 21-20. After the two teams tied at 21, 22 and 23, Minnesota finally took control of the game on a pair of attack errors by Penn State that put the Golden Gophers up 25-23. After the two teams exchanged points to make it 26-24, Martin extended the lead to 27-24 with a kill. Penn State cut it to 27-25, but Martin replied with another kill to make it 28-25. Cassie Busse (Prior Lake, Minn.) followed that up with a kill of her own to make it game point at 29- 25. The Nittany Lions scored two straight points to trim the lead to 29-27, but Minnesota claimed game three 30-27 after a Penn State serving error. The Golden Gophers outhit the Nittany Lions .264 to .172, and outblocked Penn State 4.0 to 1.0 in the game. Martin and Busse paced the attack with seven and six kills respectively. Gentil had 12 digs in the game.
The Golden Gophers jumped out to a slim 12-11 lead in game four, but Penn State scored two straight points to wrestle it away at 13-12. Minnesota tied the scored at 14, but the Nittany Lions answered with two straight points to go up 16-14. After The Golden Gophers narrowed the gap to 18-17, but Penn State grabbed the momentum with four straight points to go up 22-17. The Nittany Lions led 25-20, but Minnesota made one last effort to take the momentum after a Byrnes kill and a Penn State attack error made it 25-22. The Nittany Lions answered with four of the next five points to make it game point at 29-23. After a Nittany Lion service error made it 29-24, Erin Iceman put down the kill to clinch the conference title for Penn State.
Busse had a team-high 20 kills in a career-high 73 attempts. She also had a season-high 17 digs on the night. Martin had 18 kills and six digs for Minnesota. Bratford had 10 kills and eight digs, and Byrnes finished with 12 kills. Taatjes had a career-high 27 digs, along with seven kills and 56 assists. Gentil had five assists to go along with her career-high 33 digs. Lisa Reinhart (White Bear Lake, Minn.) was one off a season-high in digs with 14.
Penn State outhit Minnesota .248 to .179 on the night, and outblocked the Golden Gophers 12.0 to 7.0. Minnesota finished the match with 112 digs, which was a team school record for a rally-scoring match. Penn State finished with 107 digs on the night.
"I thought Penn State did a very good job tonight," said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. "They did a good job of adjusting from the last time we played them, and played at a very high level as a team tonight. We fought hard tonight as a team, but it felt like every time we were pushing the rock uphill it was rolling back on us. Give credit to Penn State for a very strong match tonight."
The Nittany Lions were led by Ashley Peterson who had a match-high 24 kills, and hit .328. Cara Smith had 19 kills on the night. Setter Sam Tortorello had 66 assists and 25 digs on the night.
The Golden Gophers will wrap up the regular season against Ohio State at home on Saturday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. After the match Minnesota will honor its two seniors, Busse and Erin Lorenzen (Pipestone, Minn.).
The Ohio State-Minnesota match will be on ESPN 2 on a tape-delayed telecast on Sunday, Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. The NCAA Selection Show will also be shown on Sunday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. on ESPNews.