Palo Alto: Already playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, it wasn’t going to get any easier when the Gophers traveled to sunny California. Waiting for them were two Top 10 teams, Oregon and Stanford. Minnesota came into the Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge with two consecutive losses at the hands of two other Top 10 teams, Texas and Florida.
They started the weekend off right, defeating sixth-ranked Oregon in five sets. The match started in the right direction, with the Gophers winning the first set 25-21. After a challenge was overturned in the Gophers favor that tied the match 10-10, Minnesota would go on a 9-3 run to separate themselves from the Ducks. Gophers Melani Shaffmaster would have two of the final three points to finish the Ducks in Set 1. McKenna Wucherer led the Gophers with five kills after one set.
The second set was arguably the closest of the night, with the two teams tying the game 12 times and having four different lead changes. Early in the second set, reigning Big Ten player of the year Taylor Landfair would score four straight points for the Gophers. A Landfair kill would get the Gophers to 24-23, but Oregon’s Morgan Lewis would finish off the second set.
A very competitive second didn’t carry over into the third, where Oregon would never relinquish a lead and win it 25-21. The Ducks found a spot pretty shallow in Gopher coverage and took advantage of it in the third set.
The fourth set is where the Gophers adapted, responded with energy, and had a balanced attack of Wucherer, Landfair, and Cal transfer Lydia Grote. Grote’s energy is hard to miss, as the senior came up with key points, stalling any Oregon momentum to cut the score close. She finished with 14 kills on 27 attempts, giving her a team-high hit percentage of 48%. The Gophers would close out the fourth set 25-20.
The fifth set was the only set of the night in which Minnesota would score first. After the Ducks tied it up 6-6, the Gophers would score four straight points, capped by a block by senior middle blocker Phoebe Awoleye. Oregon didn’t play their best in the fifth set, they would have five straight errors, including two service errors. After Oregon tied it up 14-14, the Gophers would win the match with Melani Shaffmaster taking advantage of poor play by Oregon with a powerful kill.
Mckenna Wucherer, Taylor Landfair, and Lydia Grote had 53 of the Gophers 69 kills on the night. Freshman Calissa Minatee had a great night, leading the team with five blocks. All-Big Ten Melani Shaffmaster had 51 assists and 18 digs. Ohio State transfer Kylie Murr finished with a team-high 22 digs. The senior from Indiana is showing why she was All-Big Ten every year as a Buckeye.
On why she chose to transfer to Minnesota, Lydia Grote said, “I found a team that really cares. I found a team that was competitive all around. That was something that I really matched with and loved.”
On her style of play, she says, “I am a go-for-it player; I like to be someone that my teammates can trust. I try to be high energy and put out as much as I can because I know we need it, and if I’m not giving 100% then I am not doing my job.”
Minnesota will look to make it two wins in a row over Pac-12 opponents when they face fifth-ranked Stanford on Saturday night. The Gophers are 0-3 all-time against Stanford in Palo Alto.