Volleyball sweeps NDSU, advances to NCAA second round

Minnesota will play Washington on Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota middle blocker Tori Dixon spikes against Michigan State Nov. 9 at the Sports Pavilion.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Minnesota middle blocker Tori Dixon spikes against Michigan State Nov. 9 at the Sports Pavilion.

Charlie Armitz

The No. 13-seeded Gophers volleyball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament with a straight-set win against North Dakota State on Friday night at the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota (19-11) played one of its best matches of the season, defeating the Bison 25-17, 25-21, 26-24 behind a balanced offensive attack. Five Gophers players had at least seven kills, led by Hailey Cowles’ 13.

The Gophers hit .323 in the win with 53 kills and 11 attack errors, while NDSU hit .186.

Ariana Filho added 11 kills on 16 attacks with no errors. Ashley Wittman had 12 kills in 36 attacks to extend her streak of double-digit kill matches to 25.

“We didn’t need to do anything fancy,” Minnesota interim head coach Laura Bush said. “That hasn’t been our mode of operation the entire year. We need to keep it crisp, we need to keep it simple, and we need to execute. And we were able to do that.”

Cowles had 12 kills in the first two sets while hitting .524. She was the team’s least efficient hitter during the regular season with a .103 mark, but she has stepped up her game during the Gophers’ current four-match winning streak.

“We’re able to get Hailey the ball a little bit more,” Bush said. “I know people are keying on our middles right now, and they should. They’re two very talented players, but we also have some talented pin players that are now going to be opened up because the middles are in the offense.”

NDSU (26-9), after playing what head coach Kari Thompson called a “disappointing” first two sets, held its ground in a third set that featured 19 ties and nine lead changes. The Bison forced two late Gophers timeouts and had a set point at 24-23.

But Minnesota won three straight points to close out the match.

“It’s always really important to come out of the break to win the third set, especially if you’re up 2-0,” Cowles said. “You never know what’s going to happen after that. Teams can catch fire. They started to get their groove a little bit, and they were definitely getting us out of system a lot more in the third set.

“It just showed a lot of guts and heart for our team to close it out when they were really starting to push us.”

The Gophers have won 12 consecutive sets dating back to Nov. 19. Their offense has found a rhythm with junior Mia Tabberson setting, although Minnesota’s passing has struggled at times.

“I thought NDSU started serving a lot tougher [in the third set],” Bush said. “Our passing was breaking down, and then our offense was breaking down. They definitely found a rhythm with their outside attackers that we weren’t able to stop until maybe late in the third.”

Serving was also a struggle for Minnesota, as it committed seven service errors with just three aces. Wittman, who seemed to have an off-night, had four service errors and no aces. Cowles had three service errors and one ace.

Bush said Tuesday that serving and passing well would be the key to beating NDSU — yet Minnesota managed to win comfortably despite struggling in that area.

It might not be able to afford that luxury Saturday night, when it plays Washington (24-7) for a trip to the Sweet 16.

The Huskies defeated Western Michigan in four sets earlier Friday at the Sports Pavilion.