The plane tickets had been purchased. The hotel rooms had been booked. All Hugh McCutcheon and his family needed to do was show up at the airport Saturday morning to travel to Holyoke, Mass., where the Gophers coach would be inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame.
Then McCutcheon woke up at 3 a.m. last Tuesday and had a change of heart. With the third-ranked Gophers still undefeated in the Big Ten — and set to conclude the regular-season home schedule Saturday against No. 12 Purdue — he called the Hall and offered his regrets. “I realized the potential risk to a team that’s playing well, that has a lot at stake,” he said. “Those things outweighed me going to a dinner.”
With their coach staying on the sidelines at Maturi Pavilion, the Gophers made sure McCutcheon still had something to celebrate with a 3-0 rout of the Boilermakers. The 25-10, 25-23, 25-19 victory moved the Gophers to 16-0 in the Big Ten, keeping them well clear of second-place Illinois (13-3) with four matches remaining.
The Gophers (22-2) were in top form vs. the error-prone Boilermakers. Stephanie Samedy led a balanced offense with 10 kills as the team got into a rhythm instantly. Alexis Hart and Adanna Rollins had nine kills each, while Regan Pittman chipped in eight.
Purdue hit only .167 for the match, including a minus-.027 percentage in the first set. The Boilermakers (21-6, 10-6 Big Ten) had 19 attack errors and eight service errors, while the Gophers hit .344 with only seven attack errors and perfect serving.
McCutcheon called his award “once-in-a-lifetime stuff,” but he realized he has something rare and special happening in the Twin Cities, too. The Gophers finished the regular season 14-0 at Maturi Pavilion and end the regular season at Maryland and Ohio State next weekend, then at No. 7 Penn State and Rutgers on Nov. 23-24.
“I think for this team, the best is yet to come,” the coach said. “The one thing that has been particularly important for this group is that every week, we’ve been able to add more layers: a system, or a fundamental mastery piece, or something else that’s helped us to be better the next weekend. I expect that to continue.
“I wish I could have been [at the Hall of Fame ceremony] with the other inductees at the banquet. But I’m where I was supposed to be.”
A crowd announced at 5,638 was there, too, keeping the volume high at a match that attracted ticket scalpers outside Maturi Pavilion. Purdue scored the first point before the Gophers set off on a 6-0 tear, setting the tone for the evening.
The Gophers closed out the set with five consecutive points, including four via Purdue errors. The Boilermakers, who saw a seven-match win streak end Friday night at No. 8 Wisconsin, kept it closer in the second set but continued to struggle with accuracy. They never led in the third, and after they tied the score at 18, the Gophers ended on a 7-1 run.
Some of McCutcheon’s family members — including his mother, Milly — traveled from his native New Zealand to attend the Hall of Fame induction. When he told the Gophers he had canceled the trip, Hart said the players were deeply touched.
“It’s an amazing honor,” she said. “The fact that he stayed with us shows how he really believes in us this year. It was really cool.”
The Gophers are so locked into the moment that Hart did not know who they play next. Samedy said the undefeated record is not on their minds, and the team is still improving as it approaches the final two road trips.
After the match, the Gophers held their own ceremony on the Maturi Pavilion court to commemorate McCutcheon’s induction. He planned to celebrate later, too, skipping his usual post-match video session to share a nice bottle of wine with his family.
“We’ll savor it,” he said. “And sometime, we’ll get out to Holyoke.”