Minnesota reigns as Big Ten Champs

The team now has an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Outside hitter Daly Santana strikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday Nov. 14, 2015.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Outside hitter Daly Santana strikes the ball against Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday Nov. 14, 2015.

Emily Polglaze

The Gophers won their first Big Ten Championship in 13 years on Saturday night, after finishing off the regular season with two victories.
 
No. 4 Minnesota won 3-2 at home against Ohio State on Wednesday and 3-1 on the road at Indiana to become the outright conference champion.
 
The team received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with the title.
 
The team will begin the tournament against Jackson State on Friday at the Sports Pavilion.
 
“At this point it’s fairly surreal,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon told reporters on Saturday. “When you’re doing it, you’re so focused on the next one and don’t really take any moments to look back. I think when you look back at this season, you’ll see that this group of athletes did some special things.”
 
The Gophers were atop the Big Ten standings toward the end of the season but lost for the first time in 16 matches on Nov. 21 against Purdue.
 
Minnesota then lost the first two sets to No. 16 Ohio State at home on Wednesday, but came back to win its 18th conference match of the season.
 
The first and second sets both had to be extended, and the Buckeyes took the sets 27-25 and 31-29, respectively.
 
The Gophers (26-4, 18-2 Big Ten) took control following the break and won the third set 25-17, spoiling a Buckeye road upset.
 
Minnesota went on to win the fourth 25-15 to force an extra set.
 
The Gophers took a 7-6 lead in the fifth set, and the team was able to complete the comeback with a 15-9 victory. 
 
Junior middle blocker Hannah Tapp led the Gophers on offense with 20 kills and a .500 hitting percentage, while senior captain Daly Santana had 17 kills and 17 digs.
 
The victory gave Minnesota a perfect 13-0 record at home on the season.
 
The Gophers needed another victory on Saturday to secure sole possession of the Big Ten title, as Nebraska had a chance to tie them in the standings.  
 
The Gophers made it clear immediately that they had no intention to share the championship.
 
Indiana led early in the first set, but Minnesota went on a six-point run to go up 17-11 and took the first set 25-17. 
 
The Gophers hit a match-high .571 to the Hoosiers’ .394 in the second set to win 25-18 and go up 2-0 on the match.
 
Indiana stopped the sweep in the third set with a 25-23 victory, but Minnesota regrouped to win the fourth set 25-16. 
 
The Gophers ended the conference season at 18-2 in the Big Ten, a program-best. 
 
The team missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999 last year, but now it has the program’s second ever Big Ten championship.  
 
“It took a lot of hard work not just in season, over a long period of time,” said Santana. “It’s a nice reward, but our best is yet to come. We’re using this season to learn what we can do better as a team.”