Gophers dancing their way to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth straight year

No. 2 Minnesota swept South Carolina on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Redshirt sophomore Regan Pittman celebrates a point earned with her team at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 1. The Gophers swept South Carolina in all three sets.

Image by Ellen Schmidt

Redshirt sophomore Regan Pittman celebrates a point earned with her team at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 1. The Gophers swept South Carolina in all three sets.

by David Mullen

For the fourth straight year, the Gophers volleyball team is on their way into the Sweet Sixteen.

After a defensive show Friday, it was the offense’s turn to lead the Gophers (27-3) Saturday to a victory as they swept South Carolina: 25-12, 25-15, 25-15.

“When you get a top team in the country that has as physical of attackers as [the Gophers] do, you try and get a touch when you can,” South Carolina head coach Tom Mendoza said. 

For Minnesota, its well-balanced offensive machine was led by setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who distributed the ball 31 times to five hot-handed hitters for kills. She had four kills herself on the night.

“It makes my job a lot easier because I have so many options to go to,” Seliger-Swenson said.

For the second straight night, the Gophers held their opponent to a subpar hitting percentage as South Carolina hit .147 percent. 

“We dug a fair number of balls, 51, in a three-set match that’s a pretty good defensive rate,” Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. Along with the teams digging ability he credited the team’s blockers discipline for allowing the back row to make good plays. 

The Gophers collectively had six blocks, but outside hitter Adanna Rollins and libero C.C. McGraw led the team both with 11 digs.

As Minnesota moves one step closer to its end goal of the Target Center for the NCAA Final Four, a weekend like this helps. Seliger-Swenson said future opponents who are scouting the Gophers will have a hard time creating a game plan because of the numerous offensive weapons the team has. 

In the opening set of the second-round of the NCAA Tournament the Gamecocks and Minnesota were exchanging points, until the Gophers took a slight 10-6 edge after a forceful kill by outside hitter Alexis Hart. 

The Gamecocks were held to a .040 hitting percentage in the set.

After giving up three consecutive points to South Carolina, the Gophers went on a seven-point run and never looked back.

Minnesota took the opening set 25-12 behind a five-kill set by middle blocker Regan Pittman. 

The second set was similar to the beginning of the first set. Both teams were exchanging points as the Gophers led 7-6. 

Minnesota, however, caught fire and went on a nine-point run, which extended the Gophers’ lead to 16-6. 

South Carolina would go on a small run of their own, but it was not enough. The Gophers took the set 25-15. 

Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy made her presence felt as she dominated the set with six kills. Defensively, the Gophers held South Carolina to a .111 hitting percentage. 

In the final set of the match, the Gophers’ timely streaks and well-balanced offense carried the team into the Sweet Sixteen.

Six separate players had kills in the set.

Minnesota took an early 11-5 lead and never looked back, taking the final set 25-15. 

“It was certainly among one of the better [offensive] performances in the second half of the year,” McCutcheon said. 

For the Gophers, their next test will be against Oregon, a team that beat them in September. 

“Yeah, we are so excited,” Rollins said. “We want revenge.”