Hebert misses out on NCAA tourney streak

Sarah Mitchell

For the first time in 13 years, Gophers coach Mike Hebert won’t be among the coaches at the NCAA tournament.
Behind an eighth place finish in the Big Ten, Minnesota (17-14 overall, 7-13 in the Big Ten) was not offered a bid when the expanded 64-team field was announced on Sunday.
“It doesn’t really matter,” said Hebert of his snapped streak. “It would be nice to be back in there. We had our chances.”
Hebert said the abrupt end to the season might have been a result of the team’s final loss — a devastating five-game home loss to Purdue on Sunday. With a win there, the team would have posted better overall records than Indiana and Ohio State, both of which were selected to the tournament.
Four other teams will represent the Big Ten this season. Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois’ seasons continue with the Lions receiving the top ranking in their region.
Because of the tournament denial, Hebert has found plenty to work on. Establishing ball control and a dominating middle are among the veteran coach’s game plans.
“I’m going to try and cultivate this young team into a well-oiled machine,” Hebert said.
While Hebert won’t step onto the tournament courts, he plans to be in attendance for several matches. The Dec. 17 Final Four is scheduled to be held in Wisconsin’s Kohl Center.
“I’m rooting for the Big Ten,” Hebert said.

Branagh all-Big Ten
Outside hitter Nicole Branagh was the only Gopher to earn a spot on an all-conference team. The sophomore was awarded first-team honors.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Branagh said. “It means a lot, but I think a lot of my teammates deserved it too.”
Branagh led the team with 609 kills, which ranks third all-time in school history. The Orinda, Calif. native ranks behind Katrien DeDecker (738) and Chris Schaefer (646).
Barring a slow recovery from a sprained ankle suffered during Saturday’s match, Branagh’s competitive season will continue. Branagh was invited to try out for the Pan-American team in mid-December, one of only 36 players selected.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Branagh said. “It’s nice to get my name out there.”
Side Outs
ù Gophers setter Lindsey Berg came up short in her bid for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Wisconsin middle blocker Sherisa Livingston took the honors.
ù Penn State became the ninth team in NCAA history to finish the regular season undefeated. The Lions are only the second team to accomplish this feat twice. Penn State setter Bonnie Bremner repeated as Big Ten Player of the Year.