Gophers sweep Liberty in NCAA tournament opener

Minnesota will play No. 21 Creighton on Saturday for a chance to make the Sweet 16.

Gophers sweep Liberty in NCAA tournament opener

Megan Ryan

The Gophers volleyball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament with a sweep of Big South champion Liberty on Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota beat the Flames 25-21, 25-10, 34-32 to extend its winning streak to five matches.

“I think the first and the third sets are more representative of how Liberty can perform,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “I’d say the second set was more of an anomaly than it was the norm.”

The two teams’ block and hitting percentage emphasized the back-and-forth match. Liberty outblocked Minnesota 3-0 in the first set, but Minnesota held a 6-0 edge in the second.

“I think we just started to see some things that maybe we didn’t in the first set,” junior middle blocker Tori Dixon said. “I know we made a few adjustments on their outside [hitters].”

The Flames had eight kills and eight errors in the second set. The Gophers struggled similarly in the third set with a .185 hitting percentage.

But McCutcheon said his teams’ hitting errors didn’t concern him.

“I think Liberty performed better at the net,” McCutcheon said. “Our athletes were missing by inches. It’s not like they were flailing into the back wall.”

Senior outside hitter Katherine Harms had 12 kills, tied for a match-high. She also had 12 digs, three aces and four blocks.

Junior outside hitter Ashley Wittman had 11 kills and 10 digs, while freshman outside hitter Daly Santana had 10 kills and a match-high 13 digs. Dixon recorded 10 kills and five blocks.

Wittman said the Gophers’ blockers made it easy to get multiple hitters involved.

“Our middle [blockers] did good pulling the [Liberty] blocks with them,” Wittman said. “That opened a lot of seams for the outside [hitters] and Katherine.”
Harms’ ace ended the tight third set and match, but she said the Gophers didn’t struggle to finish the Flames off.

“We all just kind of kept our heads and remained calm,” Harms said.

The Gophers will host No. 21 Creighton on Saturday for a chance to make the NCAA Sweet 16. The Bluejays swept Marquette earlier Friday, winning the third set 28-26.

McCutcheon, who scouted Creighton’s first round match, said his team needs to work on its defensive transitions before the next round.

“There were a few digs where we needed to get a hit of the ball out of it and we weren’t able to do that,” McCutcheon said.