Hart gets piece of home in next NCAA round

The freshman will take on her home state of Missouri in Friday’s match.

Gophers outside hitter Alexis Hart winds up a spike against Michigan on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016 at the Sports Pavilion.

Gophers outside hitter Alexis Hart winds up a spike against Michigan on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016 at the Sports Pavilion.

Tommy Sletten

As her long and successful rookie season continues, Alexis Hart will get a piece of home at the Sports Pavilion this weekend.

Hart, an Independence, Missouri native, is plenty familiar with the Missouri team that will serve as Minnesota’s next opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

“I know half the team. Half are from Kansas City, Missouri, or played club there,” Hart said. “It’s exciting to see some of my friends and I can’t wait.”

Hart, the only Missourian member of the Gophers, has an advantage in having some knowledge of what Minnesota can expect to see next, and she heads into the Sweet Sixteen with a lot to be proud of.

The outside hitter was named the North Region Freshman of the Year Tuesday — the second consecutive honor for Minnesota. Setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson won the award last season.

“As the tournament goes on, I think [Alexis will] get more and more comfortable,” said head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “I think she’s doing really well.”

Hart is the only player on the team that was not a part of last year’s Final Four team with consistent playing time, but her inexperience has not held her back.

Hart finished with 15 kills in the first and second rounds of the tournament and hit .400 against North Dakota.

Hart has seen her team rally around her when needed, which has helped when she’s in high-pressure situations.

“When I was a freshman, I looked to lean on the older girls a little bit, so I know what they will expect,” said senior Hannah Tapp. “Having been there before, hopefully we can help answer any questions for them or front-load it so they know what to expect.”

Three other players were named to the All-Region team for the first two rounds along with Hart — senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite, Hannah Tapp and Seliger-Swenson.

No. 15 Missouri defeated Northern Illinois and Purdue in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament on its own home court.

The other two teams in this side of the bracket are No. 7 North Carolina and No. 10 UCLA, all teams that Minnesota has yet to play this season.

The opponents will face a Gophers team that is undefeated on their home court this season. The Gophers didn’t lose at the Sports Pavilion once last year.

McCutcheon sees these teams as dangerous opponents and games that Minnesota should take one at a time.

“The hits keep on coming. There’s a lot of good teams, a lot of good volleyball this weekend,” McCutcheon said.