Hugh McCutcheon hadn't been counting. The Gophers volleyball coach didn't know it had been 401 days since his team last played, but it took him a little time to get back into his routine before Saturday's season opener against Michigan State.
McCutcheon said he had to think a bit to recall simple pregame rituals, such as how to do the lineup sheet. His players, though, didn't miss a beat. The seventh-ranked Gophers swept the Spartans at Maturi Pavilion, winning 25-18, 26-24, 25-16 to kick off a Big Ten schedule delayed by five months.
The opener blended the new with the tried and true. Junior Adanna Rollins led the Gophers with a match-high 15 kills, while senior Stephanie Samedy added nine. Freshmen Taylor Landfair and Melani Shaffmaster had strong college debuts; Landfair led the Gophers with four blocks and added 10 kills, and Shaffmaster contributed 29 assists as the starting setter.
"It was a pretty great start," McCutcheon said. "Michigan State is a good team. You've got to earn it against them.
"It's just great to get back in the saddle. I was very proud of the team, very proud of the way they competed. They stayed in it. They were composed. And we got the outcome we wanted."
The Gophers outhit Michigan State .384-.155 and outblocked the Spartans 8-1. They had 44 digs to the Spartans' 39, led by CC McGraw's 13.
McCutcheon described the day as "a little surreal." The Gophers had not played since Dec. 19, 2019, in the NCAA semifinals, and the pandemic forced some changes to the usual gameday experience. The teams did not switch sides during the match, and only about 40 people — family and friends of players — were allowed at the usually packed Pav.
The Big Ten announced Aug. 11 that the volleyball season would be postponed indefinitely, leaving the Gophers five months of nothing but practices and intrasquad scrimmages. But McCutcheon said the current team is his deepest ever at the U, and the intense competition players face every day prepared them well.
Graduate transfer Katie Myers, who played previously at Maryland, started the match and recorded four kills and four blocks while hitting .500. Landfair, the nation's No. 1 recruit, had three kills and a block in the first set as the Gophers used a 5-0 run to break a 14-14 tie and pull away.
They fell behind early in the second set and trailed 18-10 before rallying. McCutcheon substituted setter Bayley McMenimen and outside hitter Airi Miyabe for Shaffmaster and Samedy; when the two starters returned, they sparked an 8-0 spurt that gave the Gophers the lead. Samedy had seven kills in the set, including the last four Gophers points.
"Airi and Bayley gave us a little bit of a different look, different energy," McCutcheon said. "Then when Mel and Steph came back in, they were great. The whole group got on board, shifted their energy and got after it. That's something we get to do every day in practice, and it's nice to see them do it in a match."
Shaffmaster also contributed four kills and six digs, and McCutcheon praised her consistent setting in her college debut. He also was impressed with Landfair, who hit .450 and had two solo blocks.
Rollins said the freshmen were "amazing," and she was pleased with the way the Gophers meshed after the long break from competition.
"We stayed really calm, and I think that was the key to our play," she said. "I don't think things necessarily felt rusty; it just felt different. We're a new group. I think the start was really good."