Gophers beat Indiana but miss NCAA tourney

Minnesota finished the season 19-12 but struggled in the Big Ten.

David Nelson

Minnesota entered Friday night’s matchup against Indiana looking to solidify one of 64 spots in the NCAA tournament.

“I thought we played some pretty clean volleyball,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said Friday after the Gophers won 25-18, 25-17, 25-17. “[It’s] nice to finish the regular season with a win, and hopefully it’s enough to get us into the tournament.”

But it wasn’t.

The NCAA selection committee didn’t pick the Gophers to play in the championship tournament.

“[It’s] disappointing for sure, but we can’t control the committee,” McCutcheon said following the selection show. “I thought we had done enough, certainly, in the second half in the season to be considered.”

Having won three of its last five matches, Minnesota was on a bit of a roll heading into its matchup with Indiana.

“I think we feel more confident, and I also think we have a little more belief,” McCutcheon said. “It seems like week to week to week we’ve demonstrated that.”

While Minnesota struggled at moments, the Gophers made the match look relatively easy against error-prone Indiana.

Minnesota’s frontcourt frustrated the Hoosiers’ hitters, generating 15 total team blocks.

McCutcheon said that was the game’s turning point.

“That kind of control at the net on the defensive end is big for us,” he said.

Adding to that block total was sophomore Paige Tapp, who totaled a new career high in blocks with 12 of her own.

“In the last couple of weeks especially, she’s cleaned up her mechanics,” McCutcheon said. “She’s doing a great job of getting her hands in front of the ball.”

The Gophers jumped out to early leads in each set.

Aided by freshman outside hitter Alyssa Goehner’s 10 kills, Minnesota took strong leads in each of the match’s three sets.

“I felt [tonight] like I’m slowly starting to be more comfortable playing front row, since in the beginning half [of the season] I wasn’t,” Goehner said.

The fast starts allowed Minnesota to control the tempo for most of the match.

Indiana lacked the consistency to make any major comeback, ultimately succumbing to the Gophers in straight sets.

“I’m so proud of us that we didn’t put the pressure on ourselves — it was such an important match — but we went out there like every other game,” Tapp said. “I think we executed at a high level.”

Unfortunately for Minnesota, the match against Indiana proved to be its last of the season, marking the first time since 1998 the Gophers have missed the tournament.

However, McCutcheon said there are still some positives for the team to draw on from the 2014 season.

“I thought at the end we were playing our best volleyball, which is really what you hope for,” McCutcheon said. “At 19-12, it’s tough to call it a bad year for us.”