With a 3-1 win against the Northwestern Wildcats on Sunday, the No. 7 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers remain the only Big Ten team unbeaten at home this season. Senior outside hitter Ashley Wittman lead the match with 17 kills and 29 digs to pace Minnesota both offensively and defensively.
Northwestern (13-9, 5-5) was dominated at the net in the first set versus Minnesota (19-4, 7-3) as the Gophers hit .417 as a team to begin the match. Wittman was joined by Tori Dixon, Adrianna Nora, and Daly Santana on the attack early. The four pack of hitters carried the team to a 25-16 set win behind great setting from Alexandra Palmer — who set 13 perfect balls in the opening frame.
As they have shown all season, Minnesota continued to be one the best blocking teams in the conference. In the second set, the Maroon and Gold out blocked the Wildcats to a 6-1 margin as a team. Freshman middle blocker Hannah Tapp helped set the tone at the tape as she recorded five block assists in the team’s 25-17 second set win.
Redshirt sophomore Caroline Niedospial kept Northwestern in the match the whole afternoon as she played fantastic defense and was perfect from the service line, getting all 19 of her serves over cleanly. She equaled Wittman for the match with 29 digs to keep her team in the mix.
The Wildcats were able to steal the third set from Minnesota 25-22, thanks to an 8-1 offensive run. Niedospial and Wittman both had 10 digs in the third set, but Northwestern’s sideout percentage just nudged out Minnesota in the stanza.
In the fourth set, Dixon had a set-high six kills and helped the Gophers fight back again late in the match. Northwestern led by as much as three multiple times in the final set. Dixon provided on monster kill to tie the set at 21-21 and the Gophers never looked back.
Their 25-22 fourth set win improved Minnesota to a perfect 8-0 at home on the year. The Gophers are now 63-9 in Minneapolis over the last five seasons.
“We have to recalibrate and pick the lock again,” McCutcheon said after the match. “One of the things I was pretty proud of today was the way we hung in there — we played hard and played smart and that’s a big part of being successful.”
As they have been all season, the Minnesota fan base helped provide some home court advantage when their team had their backs against the wall. It was “Dig Pink” day at the Sports Pavilion and over 4,000 showed up to help raise money for breast cancer research.
Minnesota will now go on the road for two matches and will face off against Purdue and Indiana on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Wittman and the Gophers will need to continue their strong play all-around to stay in the hunt for a Big Ten title.