Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon has become used to seeing standout performances from Stephanie Samedy, and the Gophers senior came through again Friday. But while Samedy provided much of the firepower in a 3-1 victory at Nebraska, McCutcheon was equally impressed with another part of the Gophers' game.
The fifth-ranked Gophers used outstanding blocking and defense to beat the No. 4 Huskers 25-15, 20-25, 26-24, 25-23 at the Devaney Center. The Gophers had a season-high 20 blocks, including several at pivotal points in the match. Regan Pittman provided 14 of those, tying the school record for most blocks in a match.
Samedy finished with 27 kills and hit .379 for the Gophers (9-0), who won their 12th road match in a row. The victory ended a 13-match home win streak for Nebraska (6-1).
The Huskers were hitting .282 this season entering the match, but they managed to hit only .150 against the Gophers and had only eight blocks.
"For our team to be able to win on block and defense, that's not really something we've done all year,'' McCutcheon said. "To me, those were the skills that were the difference in the match. We served it well, then we were able to set up our block and defense from there.
"The team did a heck of a job. It just is great that we can deal with an offense as potent as Nebraska, and still find ways to dig a ball and throw something up that we can take a swing at. It's a little bit different for us to win a big match against a tough opponent on the road with block and defense leading the way.''
While the Gophers entered the match with a four-game win streak against ranked teams, Nebraska was facing a Top 25 opponent for the first time this season. The Huskers were slow to start, struggling with their accuracy and defense in the first set.
Nebraska hit only .056 in the set, with 10 kills and eight attack errors. Following a Lexi Sun kill to start the match, the Gophers scored the next six points and did not trail again.
The second set began in similar fashion, before the Huskers finally found their groove. The Gophers scored the first three points — ending the run with CC McGraw's third ace of the match — on their way to an 8-2 lead. As the Gophers' precision began to fade, Nebraska's defense and teamwork heated up.
The Huskers took their first lead of the set with a four-point spurt that put them ahead 17-14. The final point of that run epitomized their persistence in the set. Kenzie Knuckles chased a ball all the way to the scorer's table and kept it in play, allowing Lauren Stivrins to finish off the point with a kill.
Once again, the Gophers took a quick lead in the third set. They held an 11-6 edge before a 9-1 Nebraska run vaulted the Huskers into the lead. The Gophers kept it close, though, and mounted a big finish.
Nebraska led 22-19 after a block by Sun and Kayla Caffey. Though the Huskers had set point at 24-22, the Gophers responded with four consecutive points to capture the set and take a 2-1 lead.
The Gophers trailed 9-6 in the fourth set before going on a 7-0 run, powered by three consecutive blocks.
"I'm just so proud of this team and the way they continue to fight and scrap," McCutcheon said. "And more importantly, find ways to compete with composure, especially at the end of these big sets.''
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.