Spikers get into NCAA tourney, play on Friday

Brian Hall

Senior Stephanie Hagen had not yet arrived at the Williams Arena Club Room on Monday when the selection show for the 2001 NCAA volleyball tournament started.

A class conflict kept Hagen from being present for the moment when the Gophers third-straight trip to the postseason was announced.

“I knew we would be in but you can’t help being nervous,” Hagen said. “You keep saying, ‘What if?’ When I came in I saw the screen was blank and didn’t think it had started yet.”

Hagen’s teammates didn’t take long to fill her in on what she missed.

“We’re in,” senior Lindsey Berg said emphatically as Hagen entered the room.

Minnesota (18-12) earned an at-large bid, drawing DePaul (24-8) in the first round in the Northern Iowa-hosted portion of the bracket.

Minnesota, the sixth team announced on Monday, plays Friday at 7:30 p.m.

“I was scared we were going to be one of the last teams announced,” Berg said. “I think we got the best draw we could have asked for. There are going to be some Big Ten teams that are going to be mad at us because we were placed there instead of them.”

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 led the NCAA to make teams travel as little as possible, a decision that’s creating interesting scenarios.

“Apparently that had an impact,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said. “Geography didn’t impact selection. It just impacted where people are going. I looked at a couple of the groupings and they have very tough matchups.”

If the Gophers defeat the Demons they will play the winner of Northern Illinois (24-5) and Northern Iowa at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The No. 17 Panthers (28-1) earned the 16th seed in the tournament. The NCAA seeds only 16 teams in the volleyball bracket.

“I don’t know if the younger players knew right then, when it was announced, how good of a draw it really was,” Berg said. “I don’t know if they know how the seedings work. Everybody has to go through a top 16 seed to get into the Sweet Sixteen and we got the lowest possible seed.”

Northern Iowa was the only team to win at No. 6 Wisconsin this season, beating the Badgers in five games.

“Word is Northern Iowa is unbeatable in their own gym,” Hebert said.

The Gophers were scheduled to play the Panthers on Sept. 12 but the match was cancelled due to the events on Sept. 11.

Minnesota owns a 2-2-1 record against DePaul of Conference USA with the two teams last meeting in 1994.

“I don’t know anything about DePaul,” coach Mike Hebert said. “It gets very dangerous at tourney time to say, ‘I don’t know about them so they might not be very good.’ The teams that are in the tournament at this point are always good.”

The Gophers have qualified for their seventh postseason – fifth in the last six seasons – under Hebert.

The top four seeds in the tournament are, in order, No. 1 Long Beach State, No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Stanford and No. 5 Southern California.

Six Big Ten teams made the tournament. Conference champion Wisconsin received a sixth seed followed by 13th seed Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Illinois and Minnesota.

Minnesota enters the tournament playing its best volleyball of the season. The Gophers won five straight matches before losing three straight competitive matches to the nationally ranked Badgers, Buckeyes and Lions.

“Our progress the last three weeks has been huge,” Berg said. “Right now we have a really good feel about how we are playing and chemistry wise that I can’t see it dying out this weekend at all.”

Brian Hall covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]