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Gophers volleyball season ends with 3-0 sweep by Stanford

  • Article by: Ashley Scoby
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • December 14, 2013 - 12:34 AM

Ashley Wittman had 17 kills and Daly Santana added 13, but it was not enough for the Gophers volleyball team in the semifinals of the NCAA’s Lexington Regional. Minnesota was swept by seventh-seeded Stanford, which hit .303.

Stanford took the first two sets 28-26 and 25-23 and held a four-point lead in the third until Minnesota fought back to a 20-20 tie. But the Cardinal still won the third set 25-22.

“I think we had chances to win, certainly in the first two sets, and I think you could have even talked me into a chance in the third,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “We just weren’t able to execute. That inability to make one or two plays was probably the difference in the match.”

The Cardinal gained a 13-9 lead midway through the third set, and that marked the largest margin either team had in the match.

Minnesota’s Ashley Wittman would record a kill late in that first set for a 19-19 tie that inspired a Stanford timeout. The Cardinal regrouped, and came back for the 28-26 set win.

“We were right there with them all three sets,” Wittman said. “It was anything. Someone could have had a better pass, dig, set. Someone could have swung better. It’s still a good game, but we just couldn’t execute at the times that we needed to.”

The No. 10-seeded Gophers led the second set 16-13 and gained momentum off a Santana kill, but Stanford wrestled back control with a Carly Wopat dig, a Brittany Howard kill and Howard/Wopat combination block for three points in a row. Minnesota took a timeout after Stanford tied the set at 16-all, but the Cardinal wouldn’t relinquish its lead for the rest of the set.

The final set was more of the same for both teams: Minnesota usually getting a Wittman or Santana kill to keep Stanford from busting the game open, but the Cardinal keeping a firm grasp on the lead.

Stanford’s ability to keep the momentum swinging in its favor was something the Cardinal had labeled a focus for this matchup.

“I’m really proud of our team for how we hung together at the end of each set,” Stanford coach John Dunning said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve been trying to fight through and become good at.”

Inky Ajanaku led the Cardinal with 12 kills.

For Minnesota, seniors Wittman, Dixon and Alexandra Palmer all ended their careers. The Wittman-Dixon duo will leave the university in the top 10 of several categories: Dixon in blocks, career hitting percentage and kills, and Wittman in kills and digs.

Minnesota has never beaten Stanford, losing its fifth match to the Cardinal since 2001. The sweep ends the Gophers’ season at 29-7, after they reached their fifth consecutive NCAA Sweet 16.

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