Regionals begin today at Pavilion

Minnesota plays Georgia Tech tonight and Tennessee or Ohio State, if they win.

Kent Erdahl

Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert calls it a matchup between “mentor” and “tutee.”

But when Minnesota (30-4) plays Georgia Tech in the NCAA Regional Tournament at 7 p.m. Friday, Yellow Jackets coach Bond Shymansky said the similarities will stop at the end of the bench.

Georgia Tech’s fifth-year coach considers Hebert one of his mentors and credits him for playing an “instrumental role” in getting his last two coaching jobs. But despite even using a similar coaching style, taken directly from Hebert himself, Shymansky said his team’s match against Minnesota will feature two completely different teams.

“How do we matchup with the Gophers? We don’t,” Shymansky said. “The simple answer is that they play a very different style than we do. But the flip side of that is how do the Gophers matchup with us? They don’t.”

Georgia Tech (27-6) comes in as the fourth and lowest seed in the regional, but the Yellow Jackets are also one of the hottest teams in the country.

After a tough 0-4 start to the season, Georgia Tech tuned its quick-set offense and began dismantling opponents with speed and a variety of attacks. It is 27-2 since.

“We came out and played one of the toughest first-two-weekend schedules as anyone in the country,” Shymansky said. “We knew we would be a team that was a heck of a lot better at the end of the season than at the beginning.”

Hebert said Georgia Tech’s turnaround from a tough early schedule reminds him of last year’s Minnesota team, which went on to the Final Four after its own 0-4 start.

But senior Erin Martin said Minnesota players feel more confident and prepared to advance this time because they haven’t had the letdowns this season. In fact, the Gophers haven’t been swept once.

“We’ve played so steady throughout the season, and I think that has really settled in,” Martin said. “We know we’re not going to have a bad match.”

Hebert said he shares that confidence in his team but that any of the teams, including Georgia Tech, are capable of knocking Minnesota from the tournament.

“(The schools in the regional) all fall into the category of no-slouch teams,” Hebert said. “Last year, we thought we were just as good as the other teams in our regional and we were a four seed.”

Hebert said the Gophers will need to rely on their strengths to make it tough on the Yellow Jackets. That means playing great defense and serving the ball tough to keep them off balance.

“The way to combat that type of offense is to serve well,” Hebert said. “We’ve become a better serving team all season, and that means more than just aces.”

Hebert said Minnesota has been great at using disrupting serves that aren’t necessarily aces. That proficiency has shown in the Gophers’ record 23-game winning streak.

Although he is proud of the Gophers’ play, Hebert said, the streak is of no concern.

“I don’t look at the numbers,” Hebert said. “I’m just trying to keep so-and-so from freaking out.”

Shymansky said it is that type of focus on the players and team chemistry that draws him to Hebert.

But he said he also knows where to draw the line.

“I’m smart enough to know that I’m pretty dumb when it comes to coaching, and so I utilize him as a resource all the time,” Shymansky said. “As much as I respect him, I certainly also want to beat him.”

Potential opponents

If Minnesota beats Georgia Tech on Friday, it would face either No. 2 regional seed Ohio State or No. 3 Tennessee. Those teams play at 5 p.m. Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

The Volunteers and Buckeyes rely on distinctly different styles to win. Tennessee uses one of the most balanced attacks in the country to spread out the opponent’s defense, while Ohio State tends to go as far as NCAA player of the year candidate Stacey Gordon can take them.

Tennessee had four players average more than three kills per game this season. Gordon averaged an even seven kills per game for the Buckeyes, but no one else on the team averaged three.