Always one to look for a silver lining, Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon gave it his best shot. It took a little more effort than usual Sunday, after his team absorbed its first loss of the season with a 3-0 defeat at Nebraska.
The fifth-ranked Gophers (9-1) struggled in most facets of the game against the No. 4 Huskers, falling 25-17, 25-15, 25-22 at the Devaney Center. They had eight service errors and no aces. Stephanie Samedy, who leads the Big Ten in kills per set, hit a season-low .135 with seven attack errors.
A defense that produced 20 blocks in Friday's 3-1 victory over the Huskers managed only five in Sunday's rematch, and the Gophers' team hitting percentage of .153 was their worst this season. As forgettable as it was, McCutcheon found some value in the loss, believing it can help sharpen the Gophers as they approach the midpoint of the 22-match Big Ten schedule.
"We were uncharacteristically high-error in a few phases of the game,'' he said. "By the time you hit a few out and serve a few out, it gets a lot harder against a team playing as well as Nebraska did.
"As tough as it is to lose a match, the sting will fade. I do think there's a really good opportunity here for us to learn some lessons midseason.''
The match began unusually early, at 11 a.m. McCutcheon didn't think the brunchtime start had an effect on the Gophers, but they did need to make a more meaningful adjustment without Adanna Rollins in the lineup. Rollins, third on the team with 2.60 kills per set, sat out with what the Gophers called a non-COVID medical issue.
In many ways, the match was the opposite of Friday's series opener. The Huskers (7-1), who fell behind early in every set Friday, seized quick leads in the first two sets Sunday to put pressure on the Gophers right from the start.
The Gophers trailed 9-2 in the first set and never got closer than four. They gave away points on three service errors and two net violations, and Nebraska's much-improved defense contributed to a slower than usual start for Samedy. The Huskers offense was humming, too, keeping the Gophers defense off balance with attacks from all over the court.
With the Huskers paying more attention to Samedy on the right side, it opened space for Gophers freshman Taylor Landfair on the left. Landfair finished with a career-high 14 kills and hit a team-high .333. But with so many off-target serves and spikes, the Gophers could never generate any sustained momentum.
Samedy finished with 12 kills and 10 digs. Lexi Sun (12 kills, 13 digs) and Madi Kubik (10 kills, 12 digs) had double-doubles for the Huskers, who hit .300.
"[Nebraska] threw more blockers in Stephanie's direction,'' McCutcheon said. "I don't think that was the difference, but it slowed her down a little bit. She carries a big load for our team. Their ability to slow us down, and some good defensive plays on their end, stopped us from hitting our usual number.''
Nebraska led throughout the second set, as the Gophers recorded only one block in the first two sets. The 15 points was their lowest output in any set this season.
The Gophers took their first lead of the match at 7-6 in the third set. Late in the set, a Samedy kill put them ahead 22-21; Nebraska challenged, saying Samedy had committed a net violation. The officials reversed the call, giving the Huskers a 22-21 lead, and Nebraska finished with three consecutive points.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this match. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.