Gophers set for NCAA Tournament match

No. 11 Minnesota opens the tourney with Louisville on Friday at 4 p.m.

by Aleutian Calabay

The No. 11 Minnesota volleyball team is preparing to embark on its last adventure of the 2009 season: the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers start their tournament path against Louisville at 4 p.m. Friday in Knoxville, Tenn. The Cardinals come into the tournament riding a positive swing of their own, winning their last seven matches en route to winning the Big East volleyball championship. âÄúThey [Louisville] ended the season playing their best volleyball of the season,âÄù Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said. âÄúThey have a very athletic team; theyâÄôre very physical, hit the ball hard and block very well.âÄù The Gophers, however, also come into the tournament playing some of their best volleyball of the season, winning their last three matches in impressive fashion. First, Minnesota came back from down 2-0 to win at Michigan State , then beat both Northwestern and No. 5 Illinois at home in straight sets. Even with momentum going the GophersâÄô way, the team still has to step back from the regular season and prepare for a win or go-home attitude. âÄúNow that the season is over, it gives us a chance to refocus, and it feels like a brand new season,âÄù freshman Tabitha Love said . âÄúWe can only hope for the best, but we have a great team, and we have a good chance of going really far.âÄù Minnesota went into the tournament selection knowing they would have the regional round of the tournament at the Sports Pavilion. They were also hoping to host the first and second round of the tournament, but due to proximity issues the draw is in Knoxville. With the other teams in the bracket being Duke and Tennessee, Minnesota will be the only team traveling extensively. The Gophers finished the regular season a solid 12-7 in away games and welcome the challenge of traveling in the early rounds of the tournament. âÄúWeâÄôre pretty good on the road, so weâÄôre not going to let that distract us,âÄù junior Lauren Gibbemeyer said. âÄúI think weâÄôre more excited about the tournament in general, and we wonâÄôt let that phase us.âÄù History may also be in the GophersâÄô favor in this yearâÄôs tournament. The last season Minnesota hosted the regional round was in 2004 when they advanced to the national title match against Stanford. Minnesota is also 26-14 all-time in the tournament. The .650 winning percentage is 12th best in Division I volleyball and second only to Penn State in the Big Ten. âÄúWe feel good right now. We feel confident, and we maintain that feeling by practicing hard,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúConfidence isnâÄôt only about winning and losing; itâÄôs about how accountable you are to working hard in practice to be confident for matches.âÄù While it is difficult to project later round matchups before a single set has been played, with the way the brackets are set up, Minnesota could potentially have a chance at redemption for two early season losses. The Gophers could face sixth-seeded Washington, who beat the Gophers 3-0, in the third round of the tournament. Minnesota could also end up playing Oregon in the elite eight. The Ducks took down the Gophers in five sets in mid-September. âÄúBring it on. IâÄôm all for coming back against teams weâÄôve lost to. We did it against Illinois, and I think if we get that opportunity weâÄôll be just fine.âÄù Gibbemeyer said. Gophers take home Big Ten honors It comes as little surprise that Gibbemeyer was unanimously honored as a Big Ten first-team selection. Gibbemeyer finished the regular season second in the Big Ten with a .409 hitting percentage. She was also third in the conference in blocks, averaging 1.48 per game and eighth in overall points with 4.17 per game. âÄúItâÄôs a great honor, and IâÄôm happy, but it really doesnâÄôt matter in the long run,âÄù Gibbemeyer said. âÄúObviously I want our team to get as far as we can, and I would take team achievements over my own.âÄù Senior libero Christine Tan was also selected to the all-Big Ten team as an honorable mention. Tan finished ninth in the Big Ten in digs, averaging 3.73 per game. She was also named as Big Ten defensive player of the week three times over the season, giving her a total of 10 times she received the honor over her career âÄî a conference record. Love was named to the Big Ten all-freshman team after taking a much more prominent role in the GophersâÄô offense following the departure of Brook Dieter. She responded by averaging 2.54 kills per game in conference play , second on the team only to Gibbemeyer.