Gophers volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon saw his team suffer a few letdowns early this season, but it was almost expected against arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in his tenure.
The No. 8 Gophers faced six ranked opponents in their nonconference slate, which included losses to Texas, Stanford and Pepperdine.
After falling at No. 11 Purdue in Friday night's conference opener, McCutcheon's team needed a confidence booster to take into the rest of a loaded Big Ten season.
What better way than defeating rival and sixth-ranked Wisconsin. The Gophers won in the Border Battle series for the first time since October 2018 with a 25-21, 25-16, 29-27 victory in front of an announced sellout crowd at Maturi Pavilion.
"It's what we've been working towards," McCutcheon said. "We've had let's call it an atypical preseason."
The Gophers (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided their first 0-2 start to conference play since McCutcheon took over the program in 2012.
"Now that we're healthy, we're trying to work in this lineup that we have a lot of belief in," McCutcheon said. "We went through some growing pains, and we got some lessons learned in West Lafayette."
Taylor Landfair, who finished with a team-high 17 kills, thought she finished off the Badgers in the third set, but her point was overturned after not touching the floor to tie it 27-27.
The Gophers' comeback attempt from down five points wouldn't be denied, though, with Melani Shaffmaster answering to secure their first Big Ten victory.
"I just thought deep down we were going to win that next point, regardless of what happened," said Landfair, a redshirt sophomore. "I just had that feeling. We had the momentum the entire match."
The defending national champion Badgers (7-3, 1-1) had Minnesota's number entering the night with six consecutive victories in the series, including three last season.
Last October, the Gophers had an early six-match win streak ended by Wisconsin in a three-set loss in Madison. Their previous meeting at the Pav ended in a five-set thriller, with the Badgers surviving 31 kills from two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Stephanie Samedy. The Gophers then saw their season end by losing in three sets at Wisconsin in the NCAA Elite Eight last December.
Several All-Americas are gone on both sides of the net for this year's Border Battle, but that didn't take away from the intensity of this match.
Landfair, who ranked second in the Big Ten in kills, had a slow start Sunday, but she had help from talented Gophers freshman and Wisconsin native Mckenna Wucherer, who finished with nine kills and four blocks.
"She's doing absolutely amazing," Landfair said of Wucherer, who was injured to start the season. "I was in the exact same spot as her, so I'm always giving her reassurance and support."
Wucherer's three kills and two blocks paced the Gophers in their first-set victory. Both former No. 1 high school recruits nationally, Landfair and Wucherer took over in the second set with 12 of 13 kills during one stretch, including 10 consecutive points.
In the third set, Wucherer tied it 24-24 in the first of four Wisconsin set points negated by the Gophers, who hit .432 in the period and finished with 11 blocks on the night.
McCutcheon's squad now hopes to take Sunday's momentum to finish off a three-match homestand vs. Northwestern and Iowa.