Winning nine consecutive sets is a good way to end the regular season.
It’s an even better way to head into the NCAA Tournament — and that’s exactly what the No. 19 Gophers volleyball team will do after sweeping Indiana in its regular season finale Friday night at the Sports Pavilion.
Minnesota defeated the Hoosiers 25-13, 25-13, 25-18 and moved into fifth place in the Big Ten with an 11-9 record. The Gophers also won their seventh consecutive set dating back to last week’s 3-1 win at Iowa.
“We just fought really well all around with passing and digging,” senior middle blocker Ariana Filho said, “We’ve been focusing a lot on putting digs in system so we can get all the hitters prepared to swing in transition. We just had a lot of all-around good play that was needed for us to focus on.”
Filho had seven kills and no errors in nine swings. But it was Hailey Cowles whose all-around game shined — the senior outside hitter had 11 kills, hit .333 and added a team-high 11 digs and two service aces.
“It was just one of those nights where everything kind of went my way,” Cowles said. “I thought we were able to pass in system for most of the night, and I thought [setter Mia Tabberson] did a good job of distributing the offense very evenly.”
All five of Minnesota’s hitters had at least five kills. Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman tied Cowles for the team lead with 11 kills, and had 28 attacks. Cowles had 27 attacks.
“We always want to get Hailey more involved,” Gophers interim head coach Laura Bush said. “I love how Hailey hits, how she uses the block — it keeps a lot of other hitters open at later times in a match. It requires some consistent passing on our part.”
Minnesota passed well all night, allowing just two Indiana service aces. The Gophers also outblocked the Hoosiers 10-6.
Blocking has been a struggle for Minnesota all season, but it has shown slight improvement during the second half of the Big Ten schedule.
“We work on blocking a lot every day in practice,” Cowles said. “It’s one of the hardest skills in volleyball to learn and master. I think we’re finally honing into the system that we’re trying to play, and really working on knowing our scouting reports and what hitters are trying to do.”
The Gophers have a day off before their NCAA fate is revealed Sunday at 5 p.m.
Sixty-four teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament, 16 of which are seeded. Although Minnesota is ranked No. 19 in the AVCA Coaches Poll, it is likely to receive a seed because of its strong Ratings Percentage Index rank and its strong finish to the season.
Minnesota will host one of four regionals in the NCAA Tournament, and may also host first- and second-round action. If the Gophers are selected for the latter, they will have an opportunity to play their way into the Final Four from the Sports Pavilion, where they posted an 8-3 record during the regular season.