The ninth-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (26-8) fell one game short of a third Final Four appearance in four years, as they dropped a five-game match to No. 1 Nebraska (31-1) by scores of 25-30, 22-30, 30-20, 30-25, 15-9 in the NCAA Regional Finals on Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Stephen O’Connell Center.
With the loss, Minnesota suffered its first NCAA Regional Final defeat in three trips, while Nebraska advanced to the Final Four for a second straight season.
Minnesota led 2-0, but the Cornhuskers rallied to win the final three games to claim the match. It was the first time the Golden Gophers lost after leading 2-0 since 2001. In that match, Minnesota lost at Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
“I thought our team played very well in the first two games, and really shut down a potent Nebraska offense,” said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. “We knew that they are great team and that they would push back hard coming out of the intermission. They did exactly that. I think they did an excellent job in games 3 through 5 of playing the big points very well. We knew that Jordan Larson and Sarah Pavan would be keys to how Nebraska did today. In the first two games we did a great job on them, but they are such great players that they bounced back and played well in big spots down the stretch. I am really proud of our team for a great season, especially the seniors who did a great job of showing the younger players what it takes to succeed at this level.”
Minnesota senior Meredith Nelson (St. Croix Falls, Wis.) and sophomore Kyla Roehrig (Papillion, Neb.) were named to the region’s All-Tournament team. Nebraska’s Jordan Larson was named the region’s MVP, while Sarah Pavan and Rachel Holloway also received the region’s All-Tournament honors. Florida’s Kisya Killingsworth and San Diego’s Kristen Carlson also receive All-Tournament honors.
“We did a great job in the first two games of really limiting Nebraska offensively,” said Nelson. “We knew they would come out hard in game three push back hard. I thought in the first two games we played extremely well in every phase. We blocked well, and we were keeping every ball alive and making plays. I thought we really forced Nebraska into a lot of things they did not want to do in the first two games, but give them credit for coming back in the final three games and playing well.”
Nelson hit .303 (15-5-33) with 15 kills and four blocks. She also tied the school-record for career blocks with 536 with four on the night. Nelson also tied Paula Gentil for the most matches played in school history. Junior Jessy Jones (Naperville, Ill.) had a career-high 10 blocks, to go with hitting .344 (14-3-32) with 14 kills.
Roehrig also had 15 kills and five blocks in the match. Senior Kelly Bowman (Maple Grove, Minn.) finished with seven kills, nine digs and four blocks, while senior Malama Peniata (Plymouth, Minn.) had 23 digs and two kills. Senior Meghan Cumpston (Red Bluff, Calif.) also finished with 13 digs, three service aces and six kills for Minnesota.
“I am so proud of the way our team played tonight,” said Roehrig. “We learned a lot this year from early in the season when we started 2-4. When we had Kelly (Bowman) and Malama (Peniata) out we learned that we needed to play more as a team, and when they came back things really clicked. I am proud of how we improved throughout the year, and what this team accomplished this year.”
Freshman Christine Tan (Palm Harbor, Fla.) also had 18 digs on the night. Tan tallied 39 digs in two matches against Nebraska this year. Sophomore Rachel Hartmann (St. Charles, Ill.) had 49 assists, seven digs, three blocks and two service aces.
Nebraska outhit Minnesota .219 to .183 on the match. The Cornhuskers .219 hitting percentage was .086 points below their season hitting percentage. The Golden Gophers also outblocked Nebraska 16.0-to-9.0 in the match, and had 74 digs for the Cornuskers’ 67. Nebraska held the advantage in kills 76 to 60.
“I thought our block did a lot of things to put pressure on Nebraska in the first two games, and we got them out of rhythm offensively,” said Hartmann. “We knew they would come out hard in game three, and they did a good job of getting into an offensive rhythm. They carried that into the final three games, and put the pressure back on us. I am proud of the way our team played tonight.”
After Minnesota had jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Nebraska won the next two games 30-20 and 30-25 to send it to a fifth game. In the fifth game, Larson started with back-to-back kills for Nebraska to make it 2-0. After a ballhandling error by Minnesota, Pavan had a kill to make it 4-0. Nebraska moved it to 5-0, before Roehrig delivered a kill to make it 5-1.
Larson followed with a kill, but Jones answered with one of her own to make it 6-2. Pavan made it 7-2 with a kill, but Nebraska committed a service error on the next play to put the lead back to four points. Tracy Stalls gave the Cornhuskers momentum with back-to-back kills to make it 9-3. Following another service error, Nebraska scored consecutive points to make it 11-4. Bowman answered with a kill to make it 11-5. Stalls and Nelson traded kills to make it 12-6.
Roehrig followed with a kill to make it 12-7, but Kari Cooper had a kill for Nebraska to make it 13-7. Roehrig answered with another kill to cut it to 13-8, but Pavan delivered a kill to make it match point at 14-8. Jones kept Minnesota’s season alive with a kill, but Pavan delivered a kill to send Nebraska to the Final Four.
Nebraska outhit Minnesota .522 to .316 in game five, and had 12 kills to seven for Minnesota. Roehrig led the way for the Golden Gophers with three kills in the game.
Nebraska jumped out to an early 4-2 lead in the first game, but the Golden Gophers answered with a 4-0 run punctuated by a kill by Peniata when she placed a ball perfectly into the back left corner to make it 6-4. The Cornhuskers scored consecutive points to tie the game at six.
Minnesota answered in a big way with a 9-1 run to take a 15-7 lead. With the score at 7-6, Bowman forced a Nebraska into an attack error to give the Golden Gophers an 8-6 lead. Bowman followed with a solo block and a kill to make it 10-6. Nelson added on a kill to make it 11-6. Nebraska scored to make it 11-7, but the Golden Gophers finished the run with four straight points to make it 15-7.
Nebraska cut the Golden Gopher lead to 17-10, but Roehrig had a kill and Hartmann had a service ace to make it 19-10. The Cornhuskers scored four of the next five points to cut the Minnesota lead to 20-13. Cumpston answered with a kill, and Minnesota scored the next points to make it 22-13. Nebraska cut the lead to 22-14, but after long rally Cumpston delivered a kill to give Minnesota a 23-14 lead.
The Cornhuskers scored three of the next four points to cut the Golden Gopher lead to 24-17. Nelson and Roehrig followed with back-to-back kills to put Minnesota ahead 26-17. Nebraska scored to make it 26-18. Jones followed with a kill, and the Golden Gophers scored the next point to make it 28-18. Nebraska cut the lead to 28-19, but Roehrig made it game point at 29-19.
Nebraska fought off five straight game points to cut the lead to 29-24, but a Sarah Pavan service error gave the Golden Gophers game one 30-24.
Minnesota outhit the Cornhuskers .231 to .089 in the first game, and outblocked Nebraska 4.0-to-2.0. The Cornhuskers narrowly edged the Golden Gophers in kills 16 to 14. Roehrig and Nelson led Minnesota with four kills apiece in the game.
The Golden Gophers raced out to a 9-5 lead in game two, but Nebraska scored four of the next five points to make it 10-9. The two teams exchanged the next four points to make it 12-11. Minnesota scored four straight points to go up 16-11. The Golden Gophers scored the last two points of the run when Roehrig and Jones combined to block Pavan. The teams exchanged the next two points to make it 17-12. However, Nebraska answered with three straight points to make it 17-15.
Minnesota answered with a 5-0 run to move ahead 22-15. With the score at 18-15, Bowman delivered a kill to make it 19-15. The Golden Gophers moved ahead 20-15, and Bowman and Nelson combined on a block to make it 21-15. Cumpston and Nelson followed with another block to end the run to make it 22-15. The teams exchanged the next six points to make it 25-18. Nebraska scored the next point to make it 25-19. The Golden Gophers answered with three of the next four points to put Minnesota up 28-20.
Nebraska scored back-to-back points to trim the Golden Gopher lead to 28-22. Jones followed with a kill to make it game point at 29-24. Bowman delivered a kill to give Minnesota game two 30-24 to give the Golden Gophers a 2-0 lead in the match.
Minnesota outhit the Cornhuskers .281 to .118, despite the fact that Nebraska had 16 kills to 13 for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota also outblocked the Cornhuskers 5.0-to-2.0 in the game. Bowman had four kills in five swings in the game, while Roehrig had four in seven swings with just on error.
Nebraska jumped out to a 9-5 lead, but Minnesota answered with four straight points to tie the game at nine. The Cornhuskers responded with seven of the next eight points to take a 16-10 lead. Hartmann and Jones followed by combining on a block, and the Golden Gophers scored the next point to make it 16-12. After a Nebraska point, Jones and Roehrig combined on a block and the Golden Gophers scored again to cut the Cornhusker lead to 17-14. Nebraska answered with four straight points to take a 21-14 lead.
Minnesota scored the next point, and Bowman and Nelson combined on a block to cut the lead back down to five at 21-16. Nebraska widened the gap with five of the next six points to make it 26-17. Minnesota cut it to 28-20, but Nebraska closed out the game with back-to-back points to take game three 30-20.
Nebraska outhit the Golden Gophers .265 to .061, and had 14 kills to 11 for Minnesota. The Cornhuskers also had four service aces to one for the Golden Gophers. Nelson and Roehrig each had three kills in the game.
In game four the Cornhuskers raced out to a 12-3 lead, but Minnesota answered with eight of the next nine points to cut it to 13-11. The two teams exchanged points to make it 14-12, but Nebraska scored the next three points to make it 17-12. Jones answered with a kill, followed by a push-kill by Peniata to cut the lead to 17-14.
Nebraska answered with three straight points to push its lead back out to 20-14. Minnesota scored the next point a ballhandling error by Nebraska, and Cumpston delivered a kill to make it 20-16. The Cornhuskers pushed it to 21-16, but Nelson delivered a kill followed by a service ace by Cumpston to make it 21-18. The two teams exchanged the next six points to make it 24-21. However, Nebraska widened the gap with three straight points to make it 27-21.
Minnesota answered when Jones had a kill, and combined on a block with Bowman to make it 27-23. The Golden Gophers cut it back down to three points at 27-24 on a Larson attack error. Larson and Jones exchanged kills to make it 28-25. After a Golden Gopher attack error, Pavan delivered a kill to send the match to a fifth game.