Hebert hopes recent NCAA tourney picks hold true to form

by Brian Hall

Throughout the season, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert has watched his team through the highs and lows.

But he almost missed watching one of the high points ñ a win at Northwestern on Friday that might have earned the Gophers an NCAA tournament bid.

“I lost my mega-million dollar glasses somewhere in Madison or Chicago,” Hebert said. “I didn’t make breakfast on time Saturday morning in Chicago. I couldn’t find the number on the phone to call the desk. I couldn’t see, I was helpless.”

Now, Hebert will watch Minnesota (18-10, 10-8 Big Ten) play the rare role of home underdog, hosting No. 12 Ohio State (23-3, 15-3) and No. 16 Penn State (19-7, 12-6) this weekend to wrap up the regular season and begin what might be a third-straight trip to the postseason.

“I would be shocked if our team doesn’t play well and play loose this weekend,” Hebert said. “We are going in with the upset in mind.”

Senior Lindsey Berg said the team has developed a carefree attitude. This mindset helped Minnesota win five of their last six matches, but Hebert expects to have two grueling battles on his hands.

“I hope they are,” Hebert said. “I know Ohio State and Penn State will play that way because they have veteran teams. The question is, will Minnesota come out and play as competitive as we did against Wisconsin? If we do then these will be long dogfights.

“I think both (Penn State and Ohio State) want a top 16 seed which means a host of the first round. I am sure they are thinking they have to sweep this weekend to maintain their possibility for a Top 16 seed.”

Meanwhile, the 64-team field for the 2001 NCAA Volleyball Championship will be announced next Monday.

The Gophers occupy the pivotal sixth place spot in the conference race. Since 1995, the NCAA has selected at least six Big Ten teams for the tournament.

“Based on that, I feel reasonably confident that we will be selected,” Hebert said. “History indicates that we will be there by looking at teams with similar records. Unless something has changed, I see us in the tournament.”

The five Big Ten teams ahead of Minnesota are all ranked in the AVCA/USA Today Top 25. Along with the Buckeyes and Lions, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 21 Illinois and No. 22 Michigan State make the poll.

“There is a lot of anxiety,” Hebert said of his 20 previous selection shows. “You would think I would be used to it by now. I just sit there and say, ‘Gosh, I know we are good enough to be in the tournament but will the committee think so?’

“You sit there and watch and in a matter of seconds your name either appears on the TV screen or it doesn’t. It is kind of a strange deal.”

Armed with a new pair of eyeglasses, Hebert is hoping to see “Minnesota” appear on the screen.

Brian Hall covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]