Gophers win twice, receive No. 8 seed in NCAA tournament

Minnesota swept Wisconsin and Indiana to finish the regular season strong.

Minnesota outside hitter Katherine Harms spikes the ball against Illinois on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, at Williams Arena.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Minnesota outside hitter Katherine Harms spikes the ball against Illinois on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, at Williams Arena.

by Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team didn’t have much of a Thanksgiving break.

The team notched road sweeps against Wisconsin on Wednesday and Indiana on Saturday to finish tied for second place in the Big Ten before receiving the No. 8 seed Sunday in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Minnesota will face Liberty — a private Virginia school in the Big South conference — in the first round before facing either Creighton or Marquette in the second round.

Head coach Hugh McCutcheon said in a speech after the announcement that he knew nothing about Liberty but was more familiar with the two possible second-round opponents.

“I’m just very happy for our lot in life,” McCutcheon said. “We’ve got a nice first round.”

Junior outside hitter Ashley Wittman said while the Gophers aren’t too familiar with Liberty, the team will still present a challenge.

“You never know when those smaller teams come up what they can do,” Wittman said.

McCutcheon also said he was “stoked” that his team would host the first two rounds.

“It’s a great advantage to be able to play in your home court, and we’ve had good success here,” McCutcheon said.

Wittman said playing at home at the beginning of the tournament is only a benefit because it helps get nerves out of the way and doesn’t force the team to travel for several consecutive weeks.

The Gophers are also looking ahead in the bracket at the possibility of playing the No. 1 seed Penn State in the Elite Eight.

“Maybe if we can work our way up there, we’ll get to Penn State,” Wittman said. “That would be a fun match to go up against them again.”

Gophers handle Badgers, Hoosiers

The Gophers defeated Wisconsin 25-21, 25-20 and 25-21 on Wednesday.

Senior outside hitter Katherine Harms had a match-high 12 kills as well as four digs, three blocks, three aces and two assists.

Harms continued her momentum against the Hoosiers, tying a match-high with 16 kills. She also had 11 digs and two blocks while hitting .464. She also reached the 1,000 career kills milestone.

“We really wanted to beat those teams in three [sets] just to kind of keep our confidence up and keep things rolling as we go into the tournament,” Harms said.

Minnesota beat Indiana 25-22, 25-20 and 25-22, but the last set wasn’t as convincing as the first two.

The Gophers trailed 20-12 but made an 11-1 run based off Dixon’s serve.

McCutcheon said his team was a little reckless in the middle of the third set but was able to settle in and find its rhythm again.

“We just talked about trying to make good plays,” McCutcheon said. “Not trying to force it, to make the whole thing happen in one swing.”

Dixon said the straight-set wins on the road helped boost the team’s confidence entering the NCAA tournament.

Wittman said Minnesota is in a good position heading into the tournament after closing out its Big Ten season strong.

“That was our big thing for these last two away games,” Wittman said. “Just to keep working together and get that flow and get the camaraderie and get ready for the tournament.”