MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — In one of the best and closest fought matches of the season, the University of Colorado volleyball team gave the No. 10 Minnesota Gophers everything it had before falling 3-2 (25-20, 25-18, 17-25, 21-25, 15-9) on Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion.
“That was a battle,” coach Liz Kritza said. “After the first two sets, that match could have taken a different route and a different course, but I’m very proud of my team. I’m proud of the adjustments they made, I’m proud of the fact that they came back and really made a high-level match of this. I’m very proud of the efforts this team has made in this turn-around season for us. We took some big steps this year.
“Credit to Hugh and his staff. I think Minnesota will go far in this tournament. They are a very well-coached and talented team.”
The Buffs finish the season with an 18-14 record, recording its best season since 2006 when they also advanced to second round of the NCAA Tournament. The 18 wins this season is the most by a CU team since 2003 when the Buffs recorded 21.
Minnesota improved to 29-6 this season and advanced to the NCAA Regionals in Lexington, Ky. next weekend where the Gophers will face No. 6 Stanford.
It was an extremely well-rounded effort for the Buffs as five players recorded nine or more kills. The team recorded 64 kills and hit extremely well at .327 with 14 errors on 153 swings with Nicole Edelman handing out 50 assists. CU had the edge in hitting efficiency as the Buffs held the Gophers to .295; UM had 73 kills and 22 errors on 173 attacks.
“Both teams hit right around the .300 mark and that’s a lot of offense,” Kritza said. “The team that played more defense at key points came away with the win.”
The Gophers went after Taylor Simpson, limiting her offense to just six kills in the first three sets, but she broke through in the fourth set with five kills and added three in the fifth. In total, she had 14 on the night and hit .145 with six errors on 55 attacks.
The depth on CU’s bench proved to be a huge asset while the Gophers went after Simpson. Alexis Austin had a big night for the Buffs with 13 kills and hit an impressive .455. Nikki Lindow hammered 10 kills and didn’t have a single error on 14 swings for a blazing hitting efficiency of .714. Kerra Schroeder had one of her best matches of the season with 11 kills while hitting .346 and Kelsey English had nine kills for a .364 hitting percentage.
“It’s a pretty common place when you have your points leader on the court passing and swinging as much as we do, and most teams do; it’s a good strategy to go after her in serve-receive and go after her as much as they did,” Kritza said. “They were definitely going after her and that’s where the balance in our offense was key. We were able to spread the ball to both middles and the opposite pin. Kerra Schroeder put up a great offensive performance and came up with some key kills and those happened because (Nicole) Edelman knows she has pin hitters who can score on either pin.”
The Buffs also had the edge defensively with 73 digs, compared to 65 for UM. Jessica Aschenbrenner led both teams with 19 digs, two shy of her career-high (21) and Cierra Simpson had 17 in the effort. Taylor Simpson also had double-digit digs with 12 and Schroeder added 10.
CU posted 12.0 team blocks to the Gopher’s 8.0. Lindow put up six blocks and English posted five. Schroeder and Simpson each recorded four and Austin and Edelman added two each.
The two teams battled hard in the first set, changing the lead on six occasions before UM took a 14-13 lead. The Gophers pulled ahead 20-16, at which point CU took its first timeout of the match. The Buffs took the first two points out of the break (20-18), but the Gophers answered back with two of the next three to bring the lead back to three points (22-19). After another CU timeout, Lindow put down a kill, but the Gophers came back to finish the set 25-20.
CU had an 8-5 lead in the second set before the Gophers evened the score at 8-8, forcing the Buffs to take a timeout. The Buffs again went up by three (11-8), and again UM answered, this time with four straight points to take a 12-11 lead. The two teams continued to battle before the Gophers went ahead by three points (18-15). The Buffs tried to slow down the UM attack, but after a quick timeout, the Gophers added another three (21-15). CU fought, but was unable to close the gap and fell 25-18.
English got the Buffs off to a great start in the third set with three kills and three blocks in the first eight points for the Buffs. The Gophers used both of their timeouts early, spending the second one with CU up 11-4. The Buffs increased their lead to eight at 15-7, but the Gophers weren’t going to let CU go so easily and got back within four at 17-13 and again at 19-15. That was the closest they would get as the Buffs finished the set 25-17 on a 6-2 run with three kills from Austin.
The fourth set was another close battle. The Buffs had a 13-10 lead when the Gophers used a timeout. CU kept going and added two points to its score with a kill from Schroeder and a UM attack error (15-10). The two continued to fight as the Gophers narrowed CU’s lead to three at 17-14. UM took three of the next four points to get within one (18-17). The sides exchanged the next several points before the Buffs recorded a pair in a row off a kill from Schroeder and a block by Schroeder and Lindow for a 23-20 advantage. UM took the following point with a kill, but the Buffs closed out the set with the next two points (25-21).
In the final set of the match, the Gophers took a 6-3 lead after scoring four straight, forcing the Buffs to take a timeout. The Gophers increased the lead to 10-5 after the break, causing CU to spend its final timeout of the match. The Buffs tried to fight their way back into the set, but couldn’t make up the ground and fell 15-9.