The Gophers needed something to change.
The match was slipping away. No. 8 Penn State had marched to impressive back-to-back wins in the second and third sets, and No. 5 Minnesota hadn't shown signs that the Nittany Lions wouldn't roll to a third straight set victory and ultimately a match win.
Call it short memory, a reset or newfound energy. What happened next did the trick. Minnesota won eight of the first 10 points in the fourth set and eventually the match, 3-2 over Penn State on Sunday at Maturi Pavilion. The 25-19, 16-25, 17-25, 25-15, 15-10 victory completed a weekend sweep for the undefeated Gophers.
During the break between the third and fourth set, Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon gave a simple and direct message to his team: Penn State was playing well, and the Gophers weren't.
"We spoke to the idea that we have the ability to change that," McCutcheon said. "That we don't need to let them dictate the terms of what was going on. We still have the ability to choose and engage and play with a little more effort and teaching and discipline and execution."
They showed they have that ability.
Freshman Taylor Landfair had two kills in the 8-2 run to start the fourth. The Nittany Lions (2-2) hung around through the set, but that deficit proved to be too much to overcome.
Landfair helped make a Penn State victory difficult once again in the fifth set when she finished with six kills. Her 22 kills for the match led all players.
"It was just great to see her hitting with such good range and doing what she does," McCutcheon said. "She's a very special and unique talent in a lot of ways."
The Gophers (8-0) needed her to display that special talent because they fell behind after a strong start to the night. In the first set, kick-started by two early aces from Rachel Kilkelly, Minnesota kept Penn State from anything more than a three-point run. The Gophers outhit the Nittany Lions .154 to .143, tallying more kills, digs and blocks.
Then, Penn State surged early in the second. It jumped to a 10-3 lead from which Minnesota could never really recover. Minnesota's hit percentage fell to .075 in the second set.
That only fell in the third to .066 as the Nittany Lions jumped to hit .273. Penn State also had three times as many blocks by the end of the third.
A challenge the Nittany Lions made right before a media break helped fuel a small run. A reversed call changed it from a 13-13 game to 14-12, which Penn State built out to an 18-13 lead thanks to a Jonni Parker kill before Minnesota called timeout.
Penn State never relinquished the lead from there, winning the third set 25-17.
"We just needed to lock down and focus on what we needed to do," Landfair said. "I think we were letting Penn State dictate our energy and dictate how we were going to play."
Cue Minnesota's fourth-set comeback, in which Stephanie Samedy and Adanna Rollins each played key offensive roles. Samedy finished one kill shy of her fourth-straight 20-kill outing, and Rollins had nine.
"When you're in this league, you know you're going to play some of the best teams and athletes in the country," McCutcheon said. "It's not a surprise. It's more about learning or gaining the capacity to endure those moments, to weather those storms and be able to come back."