Gophers one win away from volleyball Final Four
MINNEAPOLIS -- Other than a passing breakdown in the second set, the Minnesota volleyball team looked very much like a Final Four contender Friday night, beating Missouri 25-15, 21-25, 25-19, 25-14 to advance to the championship match of the NCAA...
MINNEAPOLIS - Other than a passing breakdown in the second set, the Minnesota volleyball team looked very much like a Final Four contender Friday night, beating Missouri 25-15, 21-25, 25-19, 25-14 to advance to the championship match of the NCAA tournament’s Minneapolis Regional.
The Gophers (28-4) will face the winner of the late semifinal match between North Carolina and UCLA at 9 p.m. today at the Sports Pavilion for a berth in the NCAA semifinals.
That second set aside, which was keyed by a service run from Missouri player Kira Larson, a Fargo, N.D., native, it was a dominating and balanced performance for Minnesota. Five Gophers scored double-digit kills: seniors Sarah Wilhite (16) and Paige and Hannah Tapp (14 apiece), junior Molly Lohman (a season-high 11) and freshman Alexis Hart (10).
The Tapps and Lohman all hit at better than a .400 hitting percentage. Because Minnesota plays all three in the middle hitter position, their productivity was a sign that the Gophers were having a good passing night.
Said coach Hugh McCutcheon: “We’ve got a lot of people who can get it done.”
It was a different Gopher getting it done in each set. Hannah Tapp, who hit .500 for the match, came up big in the last half of the match, hammering five kills in each of the last two sets. Hart - an Independence, Mo., native who played club volleyball with many of the Tigers players - scored four quick kills in the opening set and Wilhite heated up in the last set with five kills.
Setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who lost her voice as she had to shout over a loud, sold-out crowd all night, had a double-double, with 52 set assists and 10 digs. The sophomore praised her team’s “good first contacts,” and Hannah Tapp, pointing to Seliger-Swenson’s creative handling of the offense, said her teammate is “good enough when she doesn’t have a perfect pass to set the middle.”
After seeing his team pummeled in a 25-14 final set, in which Minnesota hit .667, Missouri coach Wayne Krakow said, “I don’t think there’s anybody out there they can’t beat. They’re very athletic, they’ve got a great setter, great defenders.”
That Minnesota defense held Tigers outside hitter Melanie Crow, who averages four kills per set, scoreless in the first set. She finished with 12 kills but also nine errors, for just a .065 hitting percentage. The Gophers’ defense also made Missouri’s Carly Kan work hard for her 20 kills (at a .292 clip). The Gophers targeted her on with almost every serve they hit over the net, acing her four times.
Missouri’s defense, which outblocked the Gophers 8-7, also had some success, particularly early in the match. Their serves often targeted Wilhite, who had two serve-receive errors. The usually low-error Gophers committed 12 hitting errors in the first two sets, when Missouri’s blockers read the Gophers offense well, but cleaned things up in the final two sets, where they had just one error per set.
The key to the match may have been the break between the second set, which the Gophers lost, and the third. Wilhite said her team was rattled.
“The moment got big a little bit. In between the second and third sets we did a good job of bringing it in and taking advantage of the time we have between points to take a breath,” Wilhite said.
Missouri finished 27-6.
The Gophers won’t have much time to breathe before tonight’s match. But playing in the Big Ten, the best volleyball conference in the country has prepared them well, McCutcheon said.
“We have to go back-to-back against great teams often, so there’s a very familiar rhythm to it,” said McCutcheon, whose team would like to line up three more matches to take them to a national championship in Columbus, Ohio, where matches will be played Dec. 15 and 17.