Two sweeps yield Sweet 16 berth

Sophomore outside hitter Tabitha Love plays against North Dakota State Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

Erin Westover

Sophomore outside hitter Tabitha Love plays against North Dakota State Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

Lindsay Guentzel

Mike HebertâÄôs already impressive post-season career got even better this weekend as the No. 10 seed Gophers swept both North Dakota State and Creighton in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, earning a Sweet 16 berth. Making his 14th post-season appearance as MinnesotaâÄôs head coach, Hebert has now made it out of the first two rounds eight times since taking over the team in 1996. âÄúWeâÄôre very happy to be moving on to the Sweet 16 out in Seattle,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúIn neither match did we play our best. We were out of sync a lot, but I liked the fact that we didnâÄôt let that bother us. Early in the year, we were letting those kind of matches get to us.âÄù The Gophers got out to a slow start against North Dakota State on Friday, falling behind 4-8. But junior libero Jessica Granquist turned the set around when she took over the serve, winning eight straight points, putting the Gophers up 12-8 and forcing a Bison timeout. The Gophers kept the momentum, bounding ahead to a 20-14 lead and forced another timeout for their opponent. NDSU came out of the timeout with a rally of their own, but Minnesota staved off the seven-point run and put the set away 25-21. The Gophers again fell behind 8-4 in the second and trailed for the first half of the set, before Tabitha LoveâÄôs kill put them up 17-16, en route to a 25-21 win. There was no stalling in the third set, as freshman Tori Dixon notched 10 consecutive serves âÄî including an ace âÄî as the Gophers charged ahead 22-8 before putting the match away 25-12. âÄúI just kind of went out and said IâÄôm going to go after it,âÄù Dixon said. âÄúI just tried to put runs of serves together, but the thing that kept me back there was our defense.âÄù The win put them up against Creighton on Saturday after the Bluejays upset higher-seed Iowa State in the first round. Creighton proved to be a tougher opponent in a match that featured 34 tie scores and 17 lead changes in MinnesotaâÄôs 3-0 win. The first set was a back-and-forth game with neither team leading by more than one point. Things changed for the Gophers after sophomore Katherine Harms took over serving and pushed that lead to 22-18 before the Gophers won the set 25-19. Leading the second set 24-22 after consecutive kills by freshman Ashley Wittman, the Gophers nearly let the set get away from them as the Bluejays rallied ahead to tie the score 25-25. Minnesota had three set-point opportunities but Creighton rallied every time âÄî even posting two match-point opportunities of their own âÄî before the Gophers won 30-28. Minnesota led throughout the entire first half of the third set until a Creighton service ace gave the Bluejays a 17-15 lead. The lead didnâÄôt last long as senior Lauren Gibbemeyer and Love notched back-to-back kills to put the Gophers within one. After tying the set 18-18, Wittman delivered a tip from the back row to give the Gophers the lead, and they didnâÄôt spend anytime looking back as they grabbed a 25-20 third-set victory and the match. âÄúWe kept swinging hard, even though we got behind late in each set,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúIt was a feeling that we werenâÄôt going to worry too much about mistakes and thatâÄôs what we are looking for.âÄù The back-to-back victories send the Gophers to Seattle, where theyâÄôll play No. 7 seed California on Friday. Eight Big Ten teams entered the tournament, and five join Minnesota in the Sweet Sixteen: Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, Purdue and Ohio State. âÄúIâÄôve been saying all year to anyone who would listen that the Big Ten is the strongest conference in the country from top to bottom,âÄù Hebert said. âÄúIâÄôm just real proud of the conference and the teams. I think we have great athletes and great coaching in the Big Ten.âÄù