Minnesota one of last four standing

The Gophers are two victories away from the program’s first NCAA title.

Minnesota freshman Samantha Seliger-Swenson serves the ball at the Sports Pavilion on Sept. 12.

Daily File Photo

Minnesota freshman Samantha Seliger-Swenson serves the ball at the Sports Pavilion on Sept. 12.

Emily Polglaze

The Gophers are the highest remaining seed in the NCAA Final Four, a remarkable turnaround for a team on the outside of the postseason picture a season ago.
 
The team is only two match victories away from the first national championship in program history. Minnesota (30-4) will play Texas on Thursday for the chance to move on to the title match.
 
“Everyone was connected, and they were all working toward a common goal of winning,” freshman setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson said. “We all have the same vision, which is a really cool thing.”
 
The Gophers have lost only one set in tournament play so far thanks to the efforts of three contributors.
 
Junior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite missed the first seven matches of the season due to an injury. Wilhite is fourth on the team in kills with 241. Against Illinois in the NCAA regional semifinal, she had 20 kills and hit .500.
 
Junior middle blocker Hannah Tapp is second on the team in kills with 347 and third in blocks with 132. She was a unanimous pick for the All-Big Ten team this season.
 
The Gophers also boast the Big Ten player of the year in senior outside hitter Daly Santana. Santana led the conference in kills with 520 and had a strong showing in the Gophers regional final against Hawaii with 26 kills and 12 digs. 
 
Minnesota has advanced to four Final Fours since 2003, with its last appearance in 2009. None of the players on Minnesota’s roster have ever made it past the Elite Eight.
 
“Especially after last year, not getting the results we wanted, we needed to do something different,” Santana said. “We talked as a team and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do
something different here,’ and after that, it’s all been about putting in the work, and obviously it’s showing. I think we’re doing well.”
 
A look at the other three teams in the NCAA volleyball Final Four can be found below.
 
Texas (29-2)
 
Minnesota’s next opponent is No. 3 seed Texas. The Longhorns have appeared in the last three Final Fours and won the Big 12 conference championship this year. 
 
Texas senior outside hitter Amy Neal finished second in the Big 12 in kills with 447.
 
The Gophers and Longhorns met in the 2009 Final Four and Texas pulled off a 3-0 sweep. 
 
“They’re obviously a very good team. As far as us, some of the defensive stuff we’d like to clean up, and [there are a] few things offensively we thought we could improve on,” Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
 
Nebraska (30-4)
 
On the other side of the bracket, No. 4 Nebraska will play No. 9 Kansas.
 
The Huskers have appeared in six Final Fours since 2000 and finished one game shy of Minnesota in the Big Ten standings.
 
The Gophers defeated the Huskers 3-1 in their one meeting this season.
 
Junior outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen leads the Huskers in kills with 394. She had 20 kills and 15 digs in her team’s Elite Eight match against Washington.
 
Kansas (30-2)
 
The Jayhawks will be making their first-ever Final Four appearance this weekend after upsetting No. 1 seed USC in the Elite Eight.
 
Sophomore right-side hitter Kelsie Payne led the Jayhawks and the entire Big 12 this season in kills with 474. 
 
 
Kaitlin Merkel contributed to this report.