It was a valuable lesson, one likely to bear fruit down the road. But that didn't make what happened at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion on Saturday night any less painful.
In front of a large, loud crowd, No. 1-ranked Penn State swept the 10th-ranked Gophers in three sets. It was an object lesson in the value of experience and an exhibition of efficiency on the part of the Nittany Lions, who won 25-23, 25-8, 25-20.
"When I think about tonight's match, I think about opportunities lost and lessons learned," said Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon. "They're a good team. Full credit goes to them this evening. We were capable of playing a little better than we did. Not necessarily in terms of execution, but in terms of the choices we made."
The Nittany Lions (14-1 overall, 4-0 in the Big Ten Conference) got nine kills from outside hitters Ariel Scott and Deja McClendon and from middle hitter Katie Slay. Setter Micha Hancock had 35 assists, doing a great job of controlling the action. The Gophers were led by Katherine Harms' 13 kills. Tori Dixon had seven.
"I thought we ball-handled really well," Penn State coach Russ Rose said. "We passed really well, and handled [Daly] Santana's serve."
Indeed, it was Penn State's ability to handle the Gophers' serves that made it difficult for Minnesota to get on a roll. But the Gophers' passing wasn't as crisp, and their mistakes were more plentiful.
The first set was close, until Penn State broke a 12-all tie with a 6-1 run to take an 18-13 lead. The Gophers (12-3, 3-1) came within a point twice before losing. In the second set the Lions jumped ahead 10-4. In the third set the Lions used an early 5-1 to take control for good.
"They're ranked No. 1 in the nation for a reason," McCutcheon said. "We have some real youth and inexperience on our squad. It was our first home weekend in the Big Ten. To play a great team in front of a great home crowd can be a little overwhelming."
That youth -- the Gophers played three freshmen -- could be seen in the second set, when the Gophers appeared to lose some composure in the face of the Nittany Lions' onslaught. Penn State scored 13 of the final 15 points of the set.
"It's difficult to have the toughness to stay in every point when things aren't going your way," McCutcheon said. "That's something you learn. No club or high school match can prepare you for this arena, and by that I mean Big Ten volleyball."
The match came down to efficiency. Penn State made very few mistakes, while pouncing on just about every Gophers error.
"Penn State played great," Harms said. "Give them credit. They're a great team. It shows us the level we need to sustain at."
The two teams play again at Penn State in early November. By then the Gophers youngsters might not be so wide-eyed.
"I'm excited we'll have another chance to play them this season," Harms said. "I think we'll take this and use it for our benefit."