Minnesota advances to Sweet 16

The Gophers earned a sweep in their first two matches of the NCAA tournament.

Middle blocker Hannah Tapp spikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 14.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Middle blocker Hannah Tapp spikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 14.

Emily Polglaze

If the start of the NCAA tournament gave the Gophers any jitters, the team didn’t show it. 
 
No. 2 Minnesota easily moved on to the regional semifinal of the tournament after sweeping Jackson State on Friday and Marquette on Saturday.
 
The Gophers will play Illinois in the third round of the tournament on Dec. 11 in Des Moines, Iowa, with a chance to become one of the last eight teams standing. 
 
“I’m very happy with our win tonight and very happy to advance in the tournament,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said Saturday. “Looking forward to the next step in the journey.”
 
Friday against Jackson State, the Gophers broke an early 4-4 tie and took an 11-6 lead. Minnesota (28-4) then quickly took the first set 25-9.
 
The team jumped out to an early 12-4 lead in the second set and cruised from there to a decisive 25-13 victory. Minnesota hit a match-high .692 to Jackson State’s .208 in the second set. 
 
Jackson State made the third set tight early on, taking the lead before Minnesota junior middle blocker Paige Tapp tied the score with a kill at 6-6. 
 
The Tigers struck back to tie the score 11-11, but Minnesota regained a 20-14 lead.
 
A block from junior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite and sophomore middle blocker Molly Lohman ended the third set 25-17 and the match with a sweep. 
 
The Gophers hit .562 in the match, the best for the team since hitting .558 against Buffalo in 1998. 
 
Junior middle blocker Hannah Tapp led the Gophers in kills with 12, and freshman setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson contributed 43 assists. 
 
“I think our first contact was really good,” senior captain Daly Santana said. “So that allowed [Seliger-Swenson] to connect with each of our hitters, and that was good for us.”
 
Minnesota also had a quick start against Marquette on Saturday, gaining a 9-5 lead in the first set.
 
The Golden Eagles were able to get close at the end and make the score 22-20, but a Marquette service error gave the first set to the Gophers 25-23.
 
Minnesota started the second set with an eight-point run on Seliger-Swenson’s serve rotation and won handily 25-13. 
 
Minnesota hit .375 to Marquette’s -.053 in the set.
 
The Golden Eagles opened the third set with a 3-0 lead, and the teams continued to exchange points early.
 
Marquette was able to take a lead late in the set, but Minnesota scored the last six points of the match to come away with a 25-21 victory and another sweep.
 
The Gophers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2013 season with the victory. The team was swept by Stanford in its last Sweet 16 appearance.
 
“It’s been a great team run so far,” Seliger-Swenson said. “There’s a lot on the line now; we’re just trying to play together as a team one by one.”