Minnesota caps regular season with win

The Gophers will battle Radford in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

Minnesota outside hitter Daly Santana blocks the ball Wednesday night against Indiana at the Sports Pavilion.

Bridget Bennett

Minnesota outside hitter Daly Santana blocks the ball Wednesday night against Indiana at the Sports Pavilion.

David Nelson

The Gophers finished out their regular-season schedule on point, sweeping No. 18 Illinois on the road.

Minnesota used an 8-0 run to start the match, and rode that early momentum until the end.

“I think our athletes came in ready to play,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “They were engaged in terms of the plan, and they just executed.”

Eleven attack errors from Illinois aided the Gophers’ first-set win.

“I don’t think you have to worry about perfection [in volleyball],” McCutcheon said of the Illini’s errors, “but I do think you have to worry about being good. It’s tough to be good when you’re making errors.”

While Illinois’ offensive attack was far from perfect, Minnesota was nearly perfect defensively, totaling 14.5 team blocks.

“We kind of are able to read the game a little better and a little faster, which equals more hands in the front of the hitter,” senior middle blocker Tori Dixon said, adding that the coaching staff put together a good scouting report.

But it wasn’t just the blocking defense that led the Gophers — it was also their floor defense.

Sophomore outside hitter Daly Santana, who led the team with 15 digs, recorded double-digit digs for the second straight match.

“[The difference is] when we get to study the team really well and their tendencies,” Santana said. “That’s helped me a lot to get into the right places and just dig the ball.”

Sophomore libero Lindsey Lawmaster also stepped up in the contest.

Lawmaster was fresh off a career-high 21-dig performance in her team’s four-set win over Wisconsin on Wednesday, and she continued her dominance against Illinois.

McCutcheon said he’s been happy with her improvement in recent weeks.

And having won the last four matches in a row, the whole team seems to have improved its game.

“All four teams that we’ve played are really good teams and will compete with us,” Dixon said. “I think it’s just really good that we were able to play our game against them.”

Dixon said she feels confident that Minnesota will make a big splash in the NCAA tournament.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at managing the game,” she said, “not making so many unforced errors and relying on our defense and our block to win us some points. … That’s good heading into the tournament.”

Though the Gophers have been on fire lately, players said they’d like the advantage of hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

“It would be great to have it at home,” Santana said. “Hopefully we’ll have the privilege of it.”

NCAA selection results

Minnesota was placed No. 10 in the Lexington region of the NCAA tournament. The Gophers will host Radford on Friday night at the Sports Pavilion.

If they win, the Gophers will take on either Colorado or Iowa State on Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion.

“This is what you work so hard for … to get to the NCAA tournament and to hopefully make a good run,” McCutcheon said.