Gophers sweep North Dakota in opening round of NCAA tournament

Minnesota will play Northern Iowa in the second round at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The Gophers volleyball team celebrates scoring a point on the Fighting Hawks at Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Dec. 1. 

Image by Alex Tuthill-Preus

The Gophers volleyball team celebrates scoring a point on the Fighting Hawks at Maturi Pavilion on Friday, Dec. 1. 

by Owen Mageau

The Gophers are a young team, but they have had experience playing against the Fighting Hawks.  

In 2016, Minnesota defeated North Dakota — once in the regular season and another in the first round of the NCAA tournament. 

On Friday night, Minnesota saw North Dakota once again and not much was different, as the team eliminated North Dakota with a 3-0 sweep (30-8, 12-4 Big Sky) from the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.

“I’m very happy to be advancing in the tournament,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “I thought there were some good things for us tonight.”  

Minnesota won the first two sets, but North Dakota didn’t go away easily. 

Minnesota didn’t get their first lead of the third set until the 23rd point when they went up 12-11. The teams then traded points and the lead and eventually found themselves tied at 14. Then Minnesota went up 15-14 and never gave the lead back. Redshirt freshman Regan Pittman sent Minnesota to the next round with a kill for the match point. 

“We knew North Dakota was going to not just play hard, but play well too,” McCutcheon said. “They’re a good team. We get to see them a lot, especially it seems at this time of year.” 

The Gophers depth proved to be too much for North Dakota to handle. Minnesota had five players with seven or more kills. Sophomore Brittany McLean led the way with 13 kills. She tallied more kills in versus North Dakota than she had for the season heading into the match.

Alexis Hart had 10 kills, Molly Lohman had nine, Stephanie Samedy had nine, and Pittman added seven. Samantha Seliger-Swenson added to a good offensive performance with 30 assists. As a team, Minnesota had a .260 attack percentage and four total team blocks. 

McLean’s stat line was the most impressive, but her coach wasn’t surprised at all. 

“She’s very steady offensively,” McCutcheon said. “We like that. She hits it in a lot and works the ball with some good range. She’s good on first contact and also does a nice job blocking up there.” 

Minnesota got off to a slow start in the first set, but they stayed with it and earned the win. In the second set, they never seemed to be out of control. They fed off of the energy of the crowd and got the win.

“We were really energetic and we had good connections with each other as the game progressed,” Hart said. “We took a breath at the start of the second set and tried to slow the game down.”

The Gophers play Northern Iowa (27-8,14-3 MVC) tomorrow in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Maturi Pavilion.