Gophers down Long Island

Kent Erdahl

Minnesota made short work of Long Island’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

The Gophers swept the Blackbirds in less than an hour and a half during the first round of the tournament 30-19, 30-12 and 30-27 in New Haven, Conn.

They’ll play Yale at 6 p.m. Saturday in the second round. If the Gophers win, they will return home for regional play next weekend.

The Gophers improved to 10-0 in first-round matches.

The Gophers (29-4) showed their experience early in the match, taking quick leads in the first and second games with their defense and serving.

Libero Paula Gentil led the defense with 16 digs in the first two games, and she ended with 25.

The defense stifled the Blackbirds (32-7) attack throughout the match, holding them to a .096 hitting percentage.

“It was fun to be able to play and get serves,” Gentil said. “That’s the great thing about the playoffs. The teams don’t know you quite as well, so I get more action.”

Gentil also had two service aces, which were part of a Gophers service game that tallied nine aces on the night.

Minnesota used its serving to set the tone early, relying on three aces to take a 10-3 lead in the first game.

Gophers coach Mike Hebert said that service game and the defensive response to an unfamiliar offense were most impressive.

“As a team, we were very solid in those first two games,” Hebert said. “They played an offense that was really hard for us to track, but I thought Paula played excellently.”

Another standout was senior setter Lindsey Taatjes, who sparked the team with three aces, 19 assists and a .625 hitting percentage.

Taatjes said the match was fun, especially after the Gophers got on a roll.

“I think it was kind of a goal of the whole team to put pressure on them right away because it makes everything easier,” Taatjes said.

The Gophers did just that. But despite the commanding wins in games one and two, the Gophers had a tougher time reacting to adjustments the Blackbirds made before the third game.

Although Hebert said he was happy with the way the Gophers took charge at the beginning, he said he was less impressed with the team’s effort during the last game.

The Gophers completed their sweep with a final game that featured as many hitting errors (seven) as their first two games combined.

“We really made some uncharacteristic, unforced errors in that game,” Hebert said. “I don’t think we ever lost confidence that we would win. But, hopefully, we’ll improve on that tomorrow.”