Gophers advance to Sweet 16

Wins against Louisville and Tennessee helped the Gophers advance.

by Aleutian Calabay

The Minnesota volleyball team knew it had a tough road getting through the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament by having to travel to Knoxville, Tenn., to face teams native of that region. The Gophers responded like they had throughout most of the regular season when they had to play on the road by winning and keeping their national-title hopes alive. Minnesota opened the tournament by taking down Louisville, 3-1, on Friday with scores of 25-20, 24-26, 26-24 and 25-22. The Gophers then knocked out Tennessee on their home court Saturday in straight sets by scores of 25-15, 25-16 and 25-18. âÄúI think they gained a lot of confidence this weekend in the NCAA Tournament,âÄù Gophers head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúIf thereâÄôs a plus to be found in getting a very tough first- and second-round draw, itâÄôs that once you get to the regionals, youâÄôre ready to play. YouâÄôve already played two really good teams, and to survive that I think youâÄôre primed and ready to go into the regional championships.âÄù Minnesota had several players step up for them in the tournament. None more so than junior Hailey Cowles , who had 18 kills against Louisville and became a key offensive weapon for the Gophers when the Cardinals shut down other means for Minnesota to score. Cowles finished with 25 total kills between the two matches and also played outstanding defense, finishing with 18 digs. Also providing offensive firepower for the Gophers were freshman Tabitha Love and junior Lauren Gibbemeyer , each finishing the weekend with 30 kills. Senior Taylor Carico did a terrific job of directing the offense with 59 assists against Louisville and 40 against Tennessee. Senior Christine Tan led MinnesotaâÄôs solid defensive effort with 37 total digs. âÄúHailey Cowles played the entire game well,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúHer all-around game is very important to how weâÄôre playing right now.âÄù Despite winning 3-1 over Louisville, the Gophers hardly had an easy time taking down the Cardinals. After losing the first set, Louisville answered right back, using a late run in the second set to tie the match at 1-1. Minnesota had to fight from behind throughout most of the third set, eventually finding themselves down 22-18. Kills by Love and Cowles helped the Gophers tie the score at 23. The Cardinals got set point at 24-23, but three-straight points, finished by a Tan service ace won the set for Minnesota. The Gophers maintained a small lead throughout most of the fourth set. Louisville brought the score to 20-19, but two kills by Cowles and a kill by both Katherine Harms and Gibbemeyer helped the Gophers finish on a 5-1 to win the match. Minnesota narrowly outhit Louisville 0.238 to 0.214, but had 68 kills to the CardinalsâÄô 56. After fighting to finish for every set against Louisville, the Gophers had a very different experience against Tennessee on their home court. Minnesota jumped out to big leads in both the first and third sets and went on to win each set handily. The second set had eight early tie scores, including six lead changes as the Volunteers continued to fight. But the Gophers continually pulled away late in the sets to an easy victory. Minnesota outhit Tennessee 0.279 to 0.099, and outkilled the Volunteers 50-29. âÄúI think we were all really focused,âÄù Love said. âÄúIt was obviously tough to beat a team on their home court, but that just made us want to win that much more.âÄù The Gophers now play host to Colorado State in the NCAA Tournament Regionals. The match will be Friday at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion. Looking forward, Gibbemeyer said this weekend helped with the teamâÄôs confidence. âÄúIt was a really good feeling to win on the road and have such a good finish,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄúIt was a really good team effort, and it shows that we have a lot to give. We got off to a really good start in the tournament, and we just need to use that as momentum to keep pushing forward throughout the rest of the tournament.âÄù