Minnesota earns 11th-seed in NCAA tourney

The Gophers solidified their résumé with two weekend wins.

Minnesota earns 11th-seed in NCAA tourney

Aleutian Calabay

The No. 13 Gophers volleyball team finished the regular season strong thanks to a pair of sweeping victories at home over the weekend. Minnesota took down Northwestern 3-0 Friday by scores of 25-19, 25-20 and 25-21. The Gophers then gave a season-defining performance as they beat No. 5 Illinois by scores of 25-23, 25-23 and 25-22. The wins gave Minnesota the bump they needed to earn the No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota drew a first round matchup against Louisville, which will be played Friday at the University of Tennessee. âÄúI think itâÄôs a tough draw, but when you play better teams in the first two rounds and get by them, youâÄôre much more prepared to play in the regional championships,âÄù Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúWeâÄôll take that challenge on gladly; weâÄôre on a roll right now and playing well.âÄù Receiving the No. 11 seed for the tournament wraps up a regular season of ups and downs for Minnesota. The Gophers started out strong, winning their first five games of the Big Ten season and jumping as high as No. 5 in the rankings. Then, junior All-American Brook Dieter spontaneously quit the team, and the Gophers dropped a few matches. Questions quickly began to arise as to how good Minnesota actually was. The Gophers took back control of their season a weekend ago when they came back from being down 2-0, to beat Michigan State in five sets. Now, finishing the season with two distinguished wins over tough conference opponents puts the Gophers on the right track as they get set to open the NCAA Tournament. âÄúI think it [wins over Northwestern and Illinois] went as well it could,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúWe were pushed to the wall and we responded with resiliency, and thatâÄôs all a player or coach could ask for.âÄù Northwestern came out playing for their playoff lives against the Gophers knowing they needed a victory to have any chance at an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Even still, Minnesota outplayed Northwestern from start to finish. The Gophers built, maintained and then finished solid leads in all three sets. Minnesota out-hit the Wildcats .220 to .053, out-killed them 43-32 and out-blocked them 12-7. The Gophers were led by junior Lauren Gibbemeyer and freshman Tabitha Love , each finishing with 13 kills. Illinois had plenty to play for as well, bringing a No. 4 RPI ranking into the match with hopes that a win would give them a top-4 seed in the tournament. However, Gibbemeyer and the Gophers had their own intentions of securing a top-12 seed in the tournament. Gibbemeyer put the Gophers on her shoulders and played with clear passion as she led Minnesota to victory. Gibbemeyer finished the night with an impressive 18 kills and five blocks. Despite all three sets finishing with similar scores, each set was very different. Minnesota jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the first set, but Illinois came back to close to within 13-12. The Gophers maintained a small lead through the rest of the set and finished off match point with a smashing kill by Gibbemeyer. The second was much more back and forth, totaling 11 ties and five lead changes as both teams continued to battle for the lead. Trailing 21-19, the Gophers scored four straight points to take a late lead. After Illinois fought off a match point, Minnesota sealed with win with a Hailey Cowles kill. The Gophers took a solid lead in the third set after going on an early 11-4 run. But the Illini came back with a 6-0 run of their own, tying the game at 13. Once again, Minnesota managed to build and maintain a 1- to 3-point lead, holding off any Illinois charges. A Gibbemeyer kill set up match point, and the upset was completed as Gibbemeyer and Taylor Carico combined on a block. âÄúI think itâÄôs huge because itâÄôs like weâÄôre starting over,âÄù Carico said. âÄúNow everything is out there and we know that we can play to this ability.âÄù