Once she surveyed the scene at Maturi Pavilion, Adanna Rollins understood she had two choices. The Gophers freshman could have been overwhelmed by the thought of playing No. 4 Penn State in Wednesday’s Big Ten opener, surrounded by frenzied fans crammed into every inch of the arena.
“There was so much going on,’’ she said. “But I thought being calm was the way to go, instead of being all tense.’’
That serenity spread throughout her team, carrying the seventh-ranked Gophers to a stunning sweep. Rollins and sophomore Stephanie Samedy provided a powerful one-two punch, combining for 27 kills as the Gophers defeated the Nittany Lions 25-22, 25-21, 25-19 to start the Big Ten season with a victory for the seventh season in a row.
Rollins finished with 13 kills and 11 digs to earn her first career double-double. Samedy had a match-high 14 kills to go with 10 digs and five blocks, while the Gophers also got assured performances from Taylor Morgan (six kills, four blocks) and Samantha Seliger-Swenson (40 assists, 16 digs). The victory moved the Gophers to 7-2, while Penn State fell to 9-2.
Coach Hugh McCutcheon praised his team for its consistency in a match filled with hard-fought points, staged in an arena ringing with the roar of a crowd announced at 5,450. The Gophers outhit the Nittany Lions .262 to .168, outdug them 71-58 and outblocked them 9-5.5.
Though she was calm during the match, Rollins said she was excited afterward. So was Morgan, who appreciated how her young teammates stepped up in a match against a rival the Gophers have beaten only 11 times in 58 tries.
“It makes me really happy, because [Rollins and Samedy] don’t know the magnitude of what we’ve been through with Penn State in the past,’’ said Morgan, a redshirt junior. “Just seeing them ball out, it’s really awesome.’’
Though McCutcheon noted his young team still has much to work on, he appreciated the progress they showed since losses to Oregon and Stanford at the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge two weekends ago. After their first two defeats of the season, he reminded them that what mattered was how they responded.
In a loaded conference — seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 18 in the country — this match was just as fierce and thrilling as McCutcheon expected. In the first set, his team trailed early before a six-point run gave it a 23-19 lead, then the Gophers took the set on a block by Hart and Morgan and a Morgan kill.
The second set progressed in much the same fashion. Four early kills by Rollins helped the Gophers keep pace, until a 6-2 run midway through the set gave them a lead they kept. Penn State was victimized by a rash of errors in the set, hitting only .081.
The Gophers began the third set on a tear and never trailed, racing to a 9-2 lead and holding at least a four-point margin the rest of the way.
“I’m certainly proud of the way we competed,’’ McCutcheon said. “Our consistency was pretty impressive.’’
He cautioned, though, that the depth of the Big Ten means the Gophers must get back to work immediately.
“It’s great that we won tonight,’’ Morgan said. “We’re thrilled and excited we did, and we pulled it off as a unified team. But we’ve got to move on.’’