Minnesota volleyball wins way into Final Four

Aleutian Calabay

The No. 11 Minnesota volleyball team said from the start of the season that their goal was to reach the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.  Of course, any team can say a run to the Final Four is a goal, but for very few it actually becomes a reality.

The Gophers can officially say they stand beyond the elite and amongst the final teams in the 2009 volleyball season, earning their way to the Final Four by taking down No. 12 Florida State on Saturday night in a dominate effort, winning 3-1 by scores of 25-20, 25-7, 18-25 and 25-17.

"We seem to have that knack or instinct to play well when it really counts," Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said. "We pushed real hard and won the first two sets, they pushed back in the third set, and instead of freaking out we just got more and more solid, and I though we won going away."

The Gophers had an all around solid team effort with almost everyone on the court taking their turn to lead.  But standing, both literally and figuratively, above all others was freshman Tabitha Love. Love has continued to prove herself again and again throughout the tournament, leading the Gophers in kills against Florida State with 21, giving her a total of 43 kills between the two matches in the regionals.  There was no doubt when the regional MVP was announced that it would be Love.

Junior Lauren Gibbemeyer and senior Taylor Carico were also named to the Minneapolis Region All-Tournament Team.  Gibbemeyer finished with 15 kills and three blocks and Carico once again did a solid job of setting up the offense with 44 assists and seven kills of her own.

Minnesota dominated nearly every statistical category against FSU.  The Gophers outhit the Seminoles .331 to .179, had 66 kills to 45, and outblocked them eight to five.

The Gophers took control early in the first set by jumping out to a 7-2 lead.  They expanded that to a 14-7 lead until a 5-0 run by Florida State closed the lead to two. Smashing kills by Gibbemeyer and Love got Minnesota back on track as part of a quick 3-0 run, and the Gophers continued to close out the set from there. 

The word dominate does not seem to fully encompass just how much Minnesota stomped on Florida State in the second set.  The Gophers took a quick 10-1 lead and never looked back, going on to win easily at 25-7.  Minnesota outhit the Seminoles .609 to -.111 in the set.  Florida State’s previous low for points in a set all season had been 16.

The Seminoles came out in the third set determined not to be swept out the tournament. Florida State built a 21-12 lead, and then held off a late charge by the Gophers for the set win.

The Gophers were a team looking bound for the Final Four in the fourth set.  Playing every point hard, the Gophers held a three to four point lead though most of the set, pushing the lead to 21-14 on a Carico kill.  After a couple of Florida State errors, the set and the match was put away, fittingly, on a smashing kill by Love.

Minnesota now moves on to face No. 2 Texas for a chance to play in the Nation Championship. The match will be in Tampa, Florida on Thursday at 6 or 8 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN 2.