Spikers’ late losses don’t affect NCAA tourney No. 7 seed

Ben Goessling

Seated in the front of a packed Sports Pavilion club room, Minnesota’s volleyball team waited anxiously as ESPN News meandered through 15 minutes of highlights before broadcasting the NCAA volleyball tournament bracket at 8:15 p.m. Sunday.

The Gophers, who were poised to hear the announcement at 8:00 p.m., feigned a mild interest in footage of the day’s NFL and NBA action. Outside hitter Erin Lorenzen even muttered “nice catch” in the middle of a football highlight package.

But it was obvious the Gophers were stewing inside, hoping their three-game losses to Ohio State and Penn State in the last week of the season wouldn’t affect their seeding.

In the end, Minnesota was rewarded for its patience, as the NCAA selection committee ignored the team’s late losses and gave the Gophers the seventh seed.

“I was a little surprised at the seventh seed,” coach Mike Hebert said. “I was thinking we would be ninth, but seven sounds good.”

The Gophers split their last two matches of the regular season, sweeping Iowa last Wednesday before falling to the Lions on Friday. However, Minnesota’s impressive resume, which included eight wins over top-25 teams and three over clubs in the top-10, gave the Gophers a higher seed than their rankings indicate they deserve.

“The NCAA selection committee places great value on the Rankings Percentage Index, and we had a lot of things going for us there,” Hebert said. “I think they noticed we were 9-1 on the road in the Big Ten, and we played such a tough schedule.”

The ninth-ranked Gophers (30-5, 17-3 Big Ten) will host the tournament’s first two rounds, facing America East conference champion New Hampshire on Thursday night. If the team wins against the Wildcats, it will face either No. 17 Georgia Tech or Florida A&M on Friday.

“I know absolutely nothing about New Hampshire and even less about Florida A&M,” Hebert said. “But of the little I do know about Georgia Tech, I know they’re very good.”

If Minnesota advances to the Sweet Sixteen, it will likely face Arizona, the tournament’s 10th seed, and second-seeded Stanford, who handed the team its first loss of the season Aug. 24 at the State Farm Classic.

Minnesota took the second game of the match and took a 24-22 lead in game three before a Cardinal rally led to a four-game win.

Outside hitter Erin Martin, for one, is anxious to see the Cardinal again.

“I’m very excited for revenge against Stanford if we get that far,” she said. “If we had won the third game against them, we would have won that match. There’s nothing I like more than losing to a team and getting them back later in the season.”

Ben Goessling covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]