Minnesota earns trip to Sweet 16 with wins over Radford, Colorado

The Gophers will take on Stanford next weekend in the Sweet 16.

Minnesota outside hitter Ashley Wittman spikes the ball against Radford at the Sports Pavilion on Friday. The Gophers advanced to the Sweet 16 with wins on Friday and Saturday.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota outside hitter Ashley Wittman spikes the ball against Radford at the Sports Pavilion on Friday. The Gophers advanced to the Sweet 16 with wins on Friday and Saturday.

David Nelson

In Tori Dixon’s last match at the Sports Pavilion, it seemed only fitting that she was the one to end it.

Dixon slammed a set by Sydney Howard and watched as it bounced off a Colorado player’s arms and into the stands.

“We just do what we do every day in practice,” Dixon said. “It just worked out well.”

The Buffaloes pushed the match to a fifth set, but the Gophers responded with a resounding 15-9 win, ending Colorado’s season.

The win came on the heels of a dominant sweep of Radford on Friday night and propelled Minnesota into the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight year. The Gophers will face No. 7 Stanford next weekend in the Lexington (Ky.) regional.

The Buffaloes tried to write the classic comeback story Saturday night. Minnesota combined for a .381 hitting percentage to win the first two sets, but Colorado won the third and fourth sets to force a fifth.

The Gophers came back and dominated that set, though, ending Colorado’s Cinderella story.

“Our athletes responded appropriately and were at their best when their best was needed,” Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon said.

Seniors Dixon and Ashley Wittman each accounted for 19 kills in the match, with Wittman adding 12 digs to complete her double-double.

While the Buffaloes made the Gophers sweat, the senior duo’s play was instrumental down the stretch.

Friday night’s match against Radford went much more smoothly.

The Gophers made quick work of the Highlanders and swept them in dominant fashion, winning the last set with a final score of 25-8.

“I thought our team came out and played hard,” McCutcheon said Friday night.

The Gophers rocketed out of the gates and pieced together one of their best sets all season. They boasted a 100 percent side-out percentage — a feat Minnesota has attained only one other time this season, against Indiana.

Radford showed some life and battled back in the second set to force an 11-11 tie. The Gophers responded by rattling off three straight points and ultimately won the set.

“We got into a tight situation somewhere in the middle [of the second set],” McCutcheon said. “I thought our athletes really regained their composure and just got back to playing Gopher volleyball.”

If this weekend slate was an indication as to what “Gopher volleyball” is, then other teams in the Lexington Regional should get ready.

Minnesota showed the ability to battle back all weekend with gutsy performances from many players.

While Dixon and Wittman led the team, sophomore Daly Santana combined for 20 kills, 17 digs and nine service aces during the two matches. Freshman Hannah Tapp combined for 17 kills and nine blocks in the two-match stretch.

It was the Gophers’ last match in the Sports Pavilion this season.

“It’s been a privilege to play in front of all these fans,” Wittman said. “So coming out with a win in the NCAA tournament — it’s awesome, and now I can’t wait to go and play in the Sweet 16.”