STATE COLLEGE, PA. – The third-ranked Gophers’ dream of an unbeaten season in Big Ten volleyball ended on Friday night with a five-set loss to No. 7 Penn State. The Nittany Lions won 20-25, 25-21, 30-28, 24-26, 15-12.
Stephanie Samedy had a season-high 24 kills and hit .357 for Minnesota (24-3, 18-1 Big Ten). Alexis Hart added 16 kills and Taylor Morgan and Regan Pittman had 12 apiece. The Gophers play at last-place Rutgers (6-26, 0-19) at 6 p.m. Saturday to close the regular season. Sunday’s NCAA selection show will be at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU during which the 64-team field and the brackets will be revealed. The Final Four will be played at Target Center on Dec. 13 and 15.
Jonni Parker led the Nittany Lions (23-6, 14-5), who improved to 12-1 at home this season; the lone loss was to Purdue in five sets. The Gophers have lost to Penn State on 13 consecutive visits to State College. The last time they won there was in 2004 — also the last time they advanced to the NCAA championship game.
Penn State leads the all-time series 48-11, but the Gophers swept the Nittany Lions at Maturi Pavilion to open conference play Sept. 19.
That was the second victory in what became a 19-game winning streak for the Gophers.
The Gophers are 6-2 all-time against Rutgers, dating back to their first meeting in 1983. Since Rutgers has joined the Big Ten (2014), the Gophers are 6-0. Saturday’s meeting is their only one this season.
Against Penn State, the Gophers hit .279 while the Nittany Lions hit .245. Minnesota also had more digs (82-80), but Penn State had more kills (78-73) and more blocks (13-12).
Maybe the biggest point of the match came near the end of the third set, which Penn State won 30-28. Pittman hit a kill shot deep that appeared to be touched by a Penn State player, but the referee gave the point to the Nittany Lions. Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon challenged the play — Minnesota would have won the set 25-23 — but the initial ruling was upheld and Penn State eventually won the set on its fifth set point. The score was tied at 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28.
Despite that setback, the Gophers won the fourth set to force a fifth.