Gophers volleyball team Final Four bound

After two victories this past weekend, the Gophers head to Ohio for the national semifinals.

The Gophers volleyball team celebrates its sweep of UCLA in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. The Gophers move on to the NCAA tournament's Final Four to face Stanford in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 15.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

The Gophers volleyball team celebrates its sweep of UCLA in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. The Gophers move on to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four to face Stanford in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 15.

Tommy Sletten

Despite a shaky start for the Gophers on Saturday, Minnesota found a way into the Final Four for the second year in a row.

Minnesota started the weekend with a 3-1 victory over Missouri. The Gophers showed off their depth with five players earning at least 10 kills on the night.

The Gophers then won the regional final against UCLA in straight sets, 25-23, 25-20 and 25-21.

“We’re certainly happy to be advancing in the tournament, no question,” said head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “It was a very challenging match … and I was extremely proud of our athletes for the way they responded to the different style of play from UCLA.”

The Gophers looked nervous coming into the match, and the Bruins won the first six points to start Saturday.

After a Minnesota timeout, Minnesota regrouped and took the set from UCLA.

The Bruins tried to overwhelm the Gophers with heavy hitting, a specialty for the Pac 12 team.

But Minnesota dug up everything, led by junior libero Dalianliz Rosado, who had 17 digs on the night.

Rosado was all over the court, benefitting of her team by digging Minnesota out of sticky situations.

“I thought she was particularly impressive tonight,” McCutcheon said. “She made some really big plays, and I’m very happy to see that from her. She adds a ton of value to our team, mainly because she’s consistent. Tonight, not only was she consistent, but at times, she was spectacular.”

Minnesota was led in kills by senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite, who had 15, followed by freshman outside hitter Alexis Hart, who had 11.

Sophomore setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson had her second double-double in a row with 35 assists and 10 digs, while junior middle blocker Molly Lohman had four kills and five blocks.

Minnesota enters the Final Four with heaps of experience, as the team advanced there last year as well.

Hart, who has played well through the first rounds of the tournament, will be the only contributing player who has no experience in the Final Four.

“I’m excited. There’s a lot of great teams playing,” Hart said. “I just can’t wait to get out there.”

Minnesota’s Wilhite, Lohman and Seliger-Swenson were all named to the All-Tournament Team with Wilhite serving as MVP.

The match marked the 36th consecutive win at the Sports Pavilion for the Gophers.

Minnesota will play Stanford in the national semifinal in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday at 6 p.m.


Final Four Bound

No. 1 seed Nebraska

The Nebraska Cornhuskers were Big Ten champions this year and are the defending national champions. Nebraska is 32-2 on the season and split their season series with Minnesota. The team defeated Washington, Penn State, TCU and New Hampshire en route to the Final Four. The Cornhuskers will play Texas in the semifinal — the team that they beat for the title last year.

Players to Watch: OH Kadie Rolfzen, OH Mikaela Foecke, S Kelly Hunter and DS Justine Wong-Orantes.

No. 2 seed Minnesota

The Gophers went undefeated at home this season and advanced to the Final Four for the second consecutive year. The team is 29-4 and lost an early season matchup with Stanford, the Gophers’ semifinal opponent. Minnesota defeated UCLA, Missouri, Hawaii and North Dakota on their road to the Final Four.

Players to Watch: OH Sarah Wilhite, S Samantha Seliger-Swenson, MB Paige Tapp, MB Hannah Tapp and MB Molly Lohman.

No. 4 seed Texas

The Longhorns are no stranger to the Final Four, earning their spot this year for the fifth consecutive time. Texas is 26-4, which includes getting swept by Nebraska in the second match of the season. The Longhorns will look for revenge against the Huskers in the semifinals — the team that eliminated them last year. Texas defeated Creighton, BYU, SMU and UTRGV earlier in the NCAA Tournament.

Players to Watch: OH Micaya White, OH Paulina Prieto Cerame, OH Ebony Nwanebu, DS Cat McCoy and S Chloe Collins.

No. 6 seed Stanford:

The Cardinal are the only new team in this year’s Final Four. Stanford is 25-7, including a win over their matchup in the semifinal, Minnesota. Stanford defeated Wisconsin, Florida State, Boise State and Denver in the NCAA Tournament and is on an eight-match win streak.

Players to Watch: OH Kathryn Plummer, MB Inky Ajanaku, DS Morgan Hentz, S Jenna Gray and MB Audriana Fitzmorris.