V-ball to host first round in NCAAs

Tim Klobuchar

The Gophers volleyball team huddled around a large television, while its coach sat at a table closer to the back of the room, removed from the broadcast of his team’s NCAA tournament fate.
When Minnesota’s Central Region first-round matchup with Central Florida (23-12) was finally announced, the team erupted into cheers, forgetting that MSC was also announcing the locations of the matches. Coach Mike Hebert, meanwhile, remained composed.
MSC eventually went through the 48 teams again, and the Gophers learned they would also host the match, which prompted more cheers. The match with the Trans America Athletic Conference champions will be at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Sports Pavilion.
The Gophers gained their first NCAA berth since 1993, an accomplishment that only four current team members experienced. In between was a year in which they were bypassed for the tournament, a sub-.500 season and two coaching changes. The players’ excitement was understandable.
“For me personally, it’s bigger this time,” said Gophers junior Sarah Pearman, who was a medical redshirt two years ago, “just because of my role. As a freshman, I only played back row. And as a team, I think it’s bigger, too. We’ve overcome a lot of adversity. We were ranked eighth in the Big Ten in the preseason. The NCAA is a big deal.”
The tournament is a big deal to Hebert as well, but he’s a bit more accustomed to it. The first-year Gophers coach made the tourney the last 11 years he was at Illinois. His calm demeanor amid everyone else’s anxiousness is a trait he said he developed many years ago.
“Being part of the emotional ups and downs just isn’t my thing,” he said. “I like to relax on the fringes.”
The Gophers, with their 23-11 overall record and 14-6 conference mark, knew they were virtually assured of a spot in the tournament. So the important issue became whether or not they would host their first-round match. With a potential second-round road match at Long Beach State this weekend and an intense final week of classes looming, staying at home as long as possible is crucial.
With that wish now granted, the Gophers have to focus on the Knights and not look ahead to a match-up with national power Long Beach State.
“Just because some people haven’t heard of Central Florida doesn’t mean Minnesota automatically wins,” Hebert said.