The Gophers volleyball team would be hard-pressed to deliver a better message to the NCAA selection committee than it did Friday night.
The Gophers’ spot in the NCAA tournament was secure, but the site of their first-round match was undetermined. After Minnesota marched into St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and throttled No. 10 Ohio State in four games, its travel plans for that match were made much easier.
That’s what some Gophers players said after the NCAA tournament brackets were announced Sunday, when they found out they host a first-round match against Central Florida on Wednesday.
“That one (Ohio State) helped us get the seed at home,” Gophers senior Tera Fiamengo said. “The Northwestern match (on Nov. 22) got us into the tournament.”
Minnesota traveled to Penn State the next night, and despite the lopsided scores, played well against the Big Ten co-champions. The four-game loss dropped the Gophers (23-10 overall, 14-6 in conference play) to fourth place in the Big Ten.
The loss to the 29-2 Lions was to be expected, but then again, that was anticipated Friday night against the Buckeyes (26-5, 15-5), who were undefeated at home this season.
The first two games gave indications of a great match, as the Gophers won a back-and-forth first game and Ohio State rallied with a second-game win.
Soon after that, the match turned ridiculously one-sided in favor of the Gophers.
Minnesota allowed only five total points in winning the last two games, including just one in the fourth and final game. The Gophers swept the Buckeyes in three games at home earlier this season, but Saturday’s victory, especially the decisiveness of it, was almost shocking.
“Volleyball is such a fast game,” Gophers junior outside hitter Sarah Pearman said. “We just jumped out on them right away in the third and fourth games. We didn’t play that great. They made error after error.”
The Buckeyes hit for only a .208 attack percentage as a team, compared to .324 for Minnesota. The key was keeping Ohio State junior Vanessa Wouters under control. Wouters, an outside hitter from Westmalle, Belgium, had 28 kills, but was much less effective after the first two games.
“We broke their spirit in the third game,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said. “They made a lot of uncharacteristic errors. What I liked was that the players didn’t jump up and down after the match like they just won the NCAA tournament. We were very happy, but more businesslike.”
The Penn State match developed similarly to the Ohio State match, only with the Gophers on the opposite side. They won the first game, then lost the next three by wide margins. But, as evidenced by the two-hour time of the match, Minnesota was not totally outclassed.
“We sided out all the time,” Gophers senior Katrien DeDecker said. “They didn’t just walk all over us.”
The weekend results were mixed, but the Gophers were very happy with how they played. The only negative of the trip was that sophomore middle blocker Tara Baynes sat out the Penn State match because of a chronic back problem. Hebert said she is questionable for Wednesday’s match.
Gophers 15 8 15 15 — 3
Ohio State 12 15 4 1 — 1
Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 26, Passer 12, Fiamengo 9, Baynes 8, Pearman 7. Digs: DeDecker 10, Pearman 10, Passer 8. Assists: Bauer 56.
T — 1:45. A — 740.
SATURDAY’S SUMMARYGophers 15 7 8 3 — 1
Penn State 11 15 15 15 — 3
Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 24, Pearman 17, Passer 14. Digs: Passer 14, DeDecker 12, Pearman 12, Bauer 12. Assists: Bauer 64.
T — 2:02. A — 1,274.