Arizona’s Glass shatters spikers’ best chance yet

Ben Goessling

PALO ALTO, Calif. – All season, Minnesota’s volleyball team pulled off seemingly impossible comebacks, erasing leads of six, eight or 10 points on the way to improbable wins that left those in attendance either rejoicing or in disbelief.

But on Thursday night, at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, Glass pierced Minnesota’s heart.

Arizona freshman sensation Kim Glass hammered 29 kills and posted 13 digs, three blocks and three service aces as the No. 12 Wildcats mounted stunning comebacks in the first two games of Thursday night’s Pacific Regional semifinals to upset the ninth-ranked Gophers 32-30, 34-32, 28-30, 30-19.

“We want to avoid those big deficits, but being able to come back from those gives us a lot of confidence,” said Glass, the Pac-10 freshman of the year. “Even in the third game when we were down by 10 points, I never thought we would lose.”

The Gophers, playing in their third Sweet 16 in four years, entered as a likely pick to advance to the first Elite Eight in school history. After all, Minnesota was 16-1 on the road before Thursday. But the Wildcats beat Minnesota at its own game.

Down 29-22 in the first game, Arizona (20-11) scored seven straight points on the serve of Cassidy Crum to tie the frame at 29 and force the Gophers (32-6) to take two timeouts.

Trisha Bratford gave Minnesota a brief lead with one of her 18 kills, but Glass pounded two straight balls to the floor to turn the game back in the Wildcats’ favor. Arizona’s Angie Ayers ended the first game with a kill, capping a 10-1 run that effectively ended Minnesota’s season.

“The comeback in the first game was a major factor,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “We haven’t been stuck in that rotation all year, and Glass doing her thing takes the wind out of your sails.”

After game one, the Wildcats never looked headed for anything but their third straight Elite Eight. Arizona crawled into a five-point hole in game two, only to overcome three game points and steal another game from the Gophers.

Minnesota was 0-3 when falling behind two games to none this season. On Thursday the mark fell to 0-4.

Minnesota emerged from the locker room before game three with the fire that has characterized its dream season, and the Gophers led by as many as 10 points in the third game.

But back came Arizona again, reeling off a 7-1 run to narrow Minnesota’s lead to 29-28. The Gophers held on for a 31-29 decision, but entered game four knowing it did not have the firepower to keep its season alive.

“In the third game, some of the reality set in,” Bratford said.

If it hadn’t fully done so after game three, the Wildcats made sure it would in the fourth round, leaving an indelible stamp on the match with a 30-19 win.

Arizona will play the winner of the Stanford-Ohio State match on Friday night hoping to advance to its second-straight Final Four.

The Cardinal-Buckeyes match was not completed at press time.

After losing two first-team All-Americans last year and enduring an up-and-down season, Wildcats head coach David Rubio wore a weary but warm smile Thursday night.

“You don’t take 11 losses with clear sailing, but we’ve managed the crises well,” he said. “I’m just savoring the victory at this point. I’m extremely proud of the consistency this program has achieved.”

Minnesota, meanwhile, heads home knowing its Big Ten title, the first in school history, will be the overriding theme from the 2002 season.

“You can only get down for so long before you look ahead,” outside hitter Cassie Busse. “We have almost everybody coming back, and I am excited about our future.”

Thanks to Kim Glass, the Gophers must close the book on this season just a little too soon.