OMAHA – Late in the third set of the their first-round NCAA tournament matchup on Friday, Kylie Murr decided the Gophers were going to sweep Utah State.
The Gophers were looking wobbly, trailing 22-17 and giving Utah State a surge of life in a match they had dominated for long stretches.
"I went back to the service line, was physically back there, and remember being like, 'I am going on a run here. I am not doing this anymore,'" Murr recalled.
The Gophers finished the match on an 8-1 run, completing a 25-17, 25-14, 25-23 victory.
Murr is a lot of things: one of the best defensive players in the nation, a trash-talking motivational speaker to teammates and referees, a tone setter.
"[Murr] made a ton of plays," Aggies coach Rob Neilson said. "Fearless plays."
She was not alone.
A fair question ahead of this match was which Gophers team would show up. For the bulk of the time, it was the team no one wants to play.
Utah State brought to this match a deeply experienced team known for its service pressure and passing game.
The Gophers (17-12) flipped the script. They torpedoed serves that hung tight to the tape then floated low for nine aces — three from Taylor Landfair, two apiece from Murr, Melani Shaffmaster and Lydia Grote.
They committed just four receiving errors and were in control early, grabbing leads of 21-13 in the first set and 15-5 in the second, winning both with ease.
"We just thought the course of this match could be dictated by what happened on serve, serve-receive," Gophers coach Keegan Cook said. "Certainly a big focus for us, first focus for us in this match."
Everyone bought in. Grote, appearing in her first NCAA tournament match, sprung around the court to a team-high 10 kills to go along with two aces and five blocks. Arica Davis and Phoebe Awoleye each tallied six blocks. Shaffmaster flowed through the middle of the court with 19 assists. Mckenna Wucherer had eight kills, Landfair seven.
Murr spent the whole match chattering in the middle of her teammates. The Ohio State transfer said she couldn't wait for this match and it showed. Her 17 digs came in every variety: diving in from the back court or lunging upward with one outstretched arm to keep a ball alive.
Still the Aggies (24-7) refused to go away. The third set brought a level of tension the Gophers hadn't contended with up to that point. They were three points from losing the set when Murr and her teammates decided to put an end to things, culminating with Shaffmaster and Davis walling up for the winning block.
Saturday will bring a rematch with third-seeded Creighton. The host school for these two rounds defeated Colgate 25-19, 25-23, 25-20. The Gophers will be looking for some revenge after losing to the Bluejays in five sets in September at Maturi Pavilion.
A trip to the Sweet 16 will be on the line inside the navy blue confines of D.J. Sokol Arena. The match is sold out. The building intimate. The crowd noise assaultive.
Said Cook: "The match tomorrow is going to require more of us than we showed tonight. I know we are capable of doing it."
Murr bounced in her chair in the postgame news conference: "I'm pumped."
No one, anywhere, would doubt her.