The Gophers had a down season in 2014, finishing 19-12 overall and 9-12 in the Big Ten. They didn't make the NCAA tournament, always a goal.
Prospects for 2015 were modest. Coaches picked the U of M to finish fifth, behind the conference powers.
But maybe coach Hugh McCutcheon has got more talent than others knew. The No. 21 Gophers won their ninth match in a row Wednesday, outlasting Ohio State 25-22, 25-12, 23-25, 19-25, 15-11.
The Buckeyes had beaten the U in five sets on Nov. 26 last fall, at the Sports Pavilion, in the next to last match of the regular season.
Neither team hit particularly well, but the Gophers were a tad better, .198 to .162. OSU had a 13-12 edge in blocks, but the Gophers had more kids, 78-71, and more kills, 62-57.
Daly Santana led the U in kills with 19, Paige Tapp had 15 and her sister Hannah 12.
Paige Tapp's kill gave the Gophers the first set. They won the second with seven blocks, three aces and two kills from Paige Tapp for the last two points. Minnesota led 6-0, 11-2 and 17-3.
After the intermission, the Buckets won the third set, ending the Gophers' string of consecutive sets won at 24. The four set was close, tied at 8 and again at 13. But OSU got a 20-16 lead and closed it out.
In the fifth set, the Gophers had a 12-10 lead and Santana got the last three points on kills. Minnesota is 9-2 in Big Ten openers the past 11 years.
Ohio State was 11-1, with a 11-match winning string.
Santana seems to be the go-to hitter and usually leads the team in kills. Samantha Seliger-Swenson has been named the Big Ten freshman of the week the past three weeks. She's a setter, attracting a lot of positive attention. She had 53 assists vs. OSU while Dalianliz Rosado had 20 digs.
Santana, a senior from Puerto Rico, is averaging 4.6 kills per set and has 156. Rosado is averaging 4.2 digs per set and has 142.
Paige Tapp and Molly Lohman lead in blocks with 45 and 44, respectively.
Next up is No. 1 Penn State on Saturday night in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions beat No. 16 Wisconsin 3-0 on Wednesday and have won 41 sets in a row.
PSU won the NCAA title last year, beating BYU 3-0 in the final. With 12 consecutive wins to start this season, the Nittany Lions have won 32 matches in a row.
So the Gophers will have their hands full, especially since the match is away.