Over the past several weeks, the Gophers have learned how it feels to sweep their way through the Big Ten schedule. Saturday, when the path grew much more difficult, Adanna Rollins enjoyed it all the more.
The freshman outside hitter powered the third-ranked Gophers to a 3-1 victory over No. 5 Nebraska, pounding a match-high 20 kills and adding 14 digs. In what coach Hugh McCutcheon called his team’s most complete performance of the season, the Gophers (16-2, 10-0 Big Ten) dropped the first set, then won three in a row thanks to some timely adjustments and a big dose of heart.
The 19-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 victory kept the Gophers undefeated in the Big Ten and continued their best-ever start in conference play. They have lost only two sets, both to Nebraska, in 10 league matches.
“I think it’s hard,” Rollins said of her adjustment to college volleyball, following a grand performance in the Gophers’ biggest test yet this season. “But I like that it’s hard. I know I’ll grow out of it.”
She has grown plenty already. Rollins, a six-rotation player even as a rookie, set a career high for kills Saturday and contributed many when the Gophers needed them most. She had eight in the third set alone, including three down the stretch to help the Gophers capture the set and take a 2-1 lead.
Stephanie Samedy added 13 kills and 10 digs, and setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson finished with 47 assists, 13 digs and a pair of aces. The Gophers outblocked Nebraska 8-4 and outhit the Huskers .253-.210 for the match, including a .577 hitting percentage in the fourth set.
A rowdy crowd announced at 5,467 kept the volume high at Maturi Pavilion, where the Gophers are 11-0 this season.
“The competitive maturity she’s shown is significant,” McCutcheon said of Rollins, whose 154 kills this season are second on the team behind Samedy’s 201. “She’s punching way above her weight. As a true freshman, to be able to have that kind of performance is remarkable.’’
Nebraska (15-5, 6-4), the defending NCAA champions, entered the match on an uncharacteristic downturn. The Cornhuskers had lost three of their past four, starting with a 3-1 defeat to the Gophers in Lincoln two weeks earlier.
The Huskers’ superb blocking and serving gave them the first set of a tense, taut and exhilarating match filled with long rallies. The Gophers hit only .098 as Nebraska took advantage of three Gophers errors on a 7-1 run that put them in control early in the set. The Huskers closed it out on a 5-1 spurt.
McCutcheon said Nebraska understood the Gophers’ tendencies well, forcing his team to change the way it distributed the ball. The Gophers’ wealth of big hitters helped, as did their ability to remain calm and make strategic adjustments on the fly.
“I think our hitters did a better job of hitting with range in the next couple sets,” Seliger-Swenson said. “We were ready to be here as long as it took to get the job done.”
The Gophers staved off a Nebraska rally in the second, falling behind 21-20 before closing the set on a 5-2 run. The Huskers came back repeatedly in the third set, but the Gophers — who began with a 7-1 lead — outlasted them to take the set and their first lead in the match. They ended on a strong note, outscoring Nebraska 11-4 to win for only the ninth time in 43 matches against the Huskers.
“I thought it was our best performance of the season,” McCutcheon said. “It was really a gritty match. I couldn’t be more proud.”