Just how good are the Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-3, 2-1 B1G) that Northwestern (10-4, 2-1 B1G) lost to 3-0 on Wednesday night? The No. 16 Gophers were fresh off a loss to No. 1 Penn State on Saturday, Sept. 26, but in that loss they managed to do something no team had done in 32 matches: take a set from the reigning national champions. In fact, they took two before the Nittany Lions closed out the match in the deciding fifth set. NU entered the match after a five-game winning streak, but beating the strong Gophers in Minneapolis was too tall of an order.
Nonetheless, the two Midwestern squads proved fairly evenly matched, as all of the sets started close and remained close. Kills by Maddie Slater and Sofia Lavin pushed Northwestern out to a 5-3 lead, but Minnesota went on a 12-6 run punctuated by a Molly Lohman ace to make it 15-9, prompting Northwestern head coach Keylor Chan to call a timeout. Later on, the Wildcats gifted the Gophers a few free points off of hitting errors, a theme of the match, handing the Gophers set point at 24-16. Hannah Tapp finished off the set for Minnesota with a punishing strike that was too hot for Katie Kniep, the redshirt freshman defensive specialist, to handle. Minnesota took the first set 25-16.
The Gophers picked up where they left off in the second set, taking the first point, but the ‘Cats kept it close, eventually tying the set at 8-8 thanks to a strong service streak from star setter Taylor Tashima. Minnesota took an 11-10 lead thanks in large part to a stellar defensive play by sophomore libero Dalianliz Rosado. The Wildcats kept it close, but handed Minnesota set point. Northwestern survived for two points after a kill from Symone Abbott and an error from Paige Tapp, but the Gophers finally snuck by in the second set, 25-23.
In the third set, the ‘Cats found themselves down 4-2 before a great service streak from Kayla Morin led NU to a 6-4 lead. The ‘Cats kept the pressure on, and Minnesota found themselves trailing for a good deal of the third set, before setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson pushed the Gophers to lead 11-9. The two teams matched each other point for point, and Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon was forced to call a timeout after Northwestern senior Abbie Kraus evened the match at 20 with a service ace. The Gophers found their rhythm, setting up match point, but Northwestern survived thanks to a timely Slater kill. But it didn't last long – Tapp sealed the deal for the second time, clinching the match for her Gophers with a 25-21 set 3 win.
Despite their fourth straight-set loss of the season, a big bright spot for the Wildcats was the play of freshman middle blocker Rachael Fara. In her first college start, Fara tallied 9 kills, tied for second on the team, and led both teams with a .375 hitting percentage. In unsurprising news, Taylor Tashima led the team with 36 assists, and libero Caroline Niedospial led both teams with 22 digs. Santana led the match with 12 kills for the Gophers. Northwestern’s schedule does not get any easier, with a trip to No. 19 Wisconsin on Sunday on deck.