The No. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the No. 5 Baylor Bears in five sets, 26-28, 25-22, 20-25, 25-23, 15-10 on Thursday afternoon at the UW Fieldhouse in the Regional Semifinals of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
“One thing came clear in my mind, and it was ‘we’re not done yet’,” redshirt senior outside Airi Miyabe said. “It was not an easy game, but we just did whatever we had to do to win. It was just a great feeling.”
The Golden Gophers (22-8, 15-5 Big Ten) were paced by redshirt senior outside Airi Miyabe, who had 18 kills and two blocks while Ellie Husemann had five kills and seven blocks. Stephanie Samedy posted 16 kills and 16 digs.
With the win, the Gophers advance to the Regional Final for the fifth time under head coach Hugh McCutcheon.
As a team, Minnesota hit .166 with 58 kills, six aces, 73 digs and 13.5 blocks. Baylor (22-6, 14-2 Big 12) hit .175 with 68 kills, five aces, 75 digs and 10 blocks. Yossiana Pressley led Baylor with 22 kills and eight digs.
Set 1: Baylor and Minnesota split the first eight points of the match before BU took a 6-4 lead and led for most of the middle of the set. With her second kill of the match to get the Gophers within one at 8-7, Samedy became the fourth Gopher of all-time to reach 2,000 career kills. A 3-1 run by the Bears gave them a three point lead at 11-8 before a block from Husemann and Miyabe and a kill from Samedy put the ‘U’ back within one at 12-11. Two straight points, including an ace from the Bears, put BU up 14-11, but a 4-0 run from the Gophers put them up 15-14 heading into the media timeout. The Bears would respond with a 5-2 run out of the media break to take a 19-17 lead and force a timeout from coach McCutcheon. A 4-2 Gophers run would tie the set up at 21 before a Wenaas kill put the ‘U’ up 22-21 and forced a BU timeout. Miyabe posted two key kills in the spurt. Minnesota would go up 23-21 on a Husemann/Wenaas combo block and had set point opportunities at 24-23 and 25-24 before BU answered each time. An ace from Baylor put the Bears up 26-25 and coach McCutcheon called his second timeout. The Gophers would tie it at 26 but two straight kills from BU’s Yossiana Pressley ended the set with a 28-26 Baylor win. Pressley had nine kills to lead BU (.179 team hitting %) while Samedy had six to lead Minnesota (.163).
Set 2: Minnesota started strong in set two, going up 6-2 on the back of a pair of kills from Husemann and an ace from Myers. A 4-2 run from BU cut the Gophers lead to 8-6 before a 5-1 run from the ‘U’ led to a timeout from the Bears. An ace from Wenaas, a kill from Miyabe and two blocks from Shaffmaster helped Minnesota extend its lead out to 13-7. BU would score the next two before a 3-0 Gophers run gave the ‘U’ its largest lead of the set at seven (16-9). Minnesota would sustain a seven-point lead up to 19-12 before a 3-0 run from the Bears cut the lead to 19-15 and forced a timeout from coach McCutcheon. BU kept fighting in set two, cutting the lead to two at 23-21 and 24-22. Ultimately, they were done in by errors, as Baylor had seven service errors in the second frame after having none in the first set. Five of the final six Gophers points in the set came on either BU service or attacking errors. Minnesota hit .160 with seven kills in set two while Baylor hit 200 with 18 kills.
Set 3: A 5-1 start for Baylor in set three led to a timeout from the Gophers to talk things over. After another point for BU, the ‘U’ answered with a 3-0 run to get back within two at 6-4. Minnesota cut the lead to one at 8-7 after consecutive kills from Shaffmaster and Samedy, but BU responded with a 4-1 run to go back up three at 11-8. The ‘U’ kept fighting and cut the lead to one once again at 14-13 after a kill from Samedy and a block from Katie Myers and Jenna Wenaas. The Bears would answer with a 3-0 to go back up four and force coach McCutcheon to call his second timeout of the set. The Gophers would cut the lead to two at 17-15, 18-16 and 19-17 but struggled to close the deficit any more. BU would close out the set on a 6-3 run to win, 25-20, going up 2-1 in the match. Minnesota hit .135 in set three with 13 kills and 15 digs while Baylor hit .297 with 15 kills and 16 digs.
Set 4: The two teams split the first eight points of the set before a 4-0 Baylor run gave them an 8-4 lead and forced a timeout from coach McCutcheon. Minnesota and BU exchanged the next four points before a 3-0 run from the Gophers cut the lead to 10-9. After trading the next two points, a 3-0 run from the Bears put the green and gold up 14-10. Airi Miyabe did her best to get her team back into the match, tallying three straight kills for the ‘U’ to cut the lead to 15-13. After another BU point, the Gophers exploded on a 6-0 run to take a 19-16 lead. A solo block from Husemann and two kills from Samedy sparked the run. BU would answer with a 6-2 run to take a 22-21 lead, forcing a timeout from coach McCutcheon. A service error from BU and an ace from Myers put the Gophers back up, 23-22, and forced a timeout from the green and gold. A hitting error from BU put the ‘U’ up 24-22 as they faced set point. After another point from BU, Samedy slammed one home and the Gophers took set four, 25-23. The Gophers hit .119 in set four with 13 kills while the Bears hit .062 with 12 kills.
Set 5: An ace from Myers started off the scoring for the Gophers before a 3-1 run put Baylor on top. After a kill from Miyabe, a kill from BU’s Pressley and a service ace put the green and gold up 5-2 and forced a Minnesota timeout. After another kill from Pressley, the Gophers went on a 5-0 run to take a 7-6 lead. A kill from Samedy, a block from Husemann and an ace from Kilkelly proved to be key in the spurt. After BU tied it up at seven, kills from Samedy and Wenaas put the ‘U’ up 9-7. The Gophers would go up 10-8 before a 2-0 BU run tied it up at 10-10. A service error from BU and kills from Wenaas and Miyabe put the ‘U’ up 13-10, forcing the Bears to call their final timeout. A kill from Wenaas and an attacking error by Baylor ended the match, with Minnesota winning, 15-10. Wenaas tallied four kills in the final set as the Gophers hit .318 and held UCLA to .160.
-Under head coach Hugh McCutcheon, Minnesota is now 26-8 in the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers have now made nine regional finals in program history, including five under coach McCutcheon.
-Minnesota is now 5-2 in five set matches in 2021.
-Stephanie Samedy had 16 kills and 16 digs. She’s now at 2,014 career kills, becoming the fourth Gopher ever to reach 2,000 for her career. She’s the second Big Ten athlete in history to record 2,000 career kills and 1,500 digs.
-Minnesota improves to 3-1 against Baylor in their all-time series against one another.
-Samedy played in her 144th career match Thursday afternoon, which ranks No. 1 in Gophers history.
-Airi Miyabe tallied a career-high 18 kills, including six in the fourth set.
-Jenna Wenaas tallied her 24th double digit kill match of the year with 13 kills and 15 digs.
-It’s the 15th time this season Miyabe, Samedy and Wenaas all had double digit kills in a match.
-Melani Shaffmaster totaled a team-high 48 assists with 12 digs.
-Ellie Husemann led the Gophers defense with seven blocks. She’s tallied a team-high 18 for the tournament.
-CC McGraw tallied 13 digs in her return.
No. 12 Minnesota will take on No. 4 Wisconsin on Saturday night at 7 p.m. CT in the Regional Final.
(info and photo courtesy of Gopher Sports)