Gophers sweep first two rounds of NCAA tournament

The No. 2 seeded Gophers cruised to victory over North Dakota and Hawaii at home over the weekend.

The Gophers celebrate after scoring a point on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers won against the University of North Dakota.

Chris Dang

The Gophers celebrate after scoring a point on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers won against the University of North Dakota.

Tommy Sletten

No. 2 seeded Minnesota advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after decisive victories in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend.

In front of the hometown crowd and packed student section on Saturday, the No. 1 Gophers swept North Dakota and Hawaii to remain undefeated at the Sports Pavilion this season.

“We’re very happy to be moving on in the tournament, obviously,” said head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “This weekend felt more like a regional than it did a first or second round. Two very good teams.”

Minnesota cruised through three sets against North Dakota, hitting .349 to North Dakota’s .147.

The Gophers dominated the second set of the match and won 25-12.

“In the first set we came out strong,” said senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite. “For the second set we made a goal to stay strong the entire set, and I think we did that.”

Wilhite led the team with 17 kills on the night, and she also had seven digs.

Sophomore Samantha Seliger-Swenson had a double-double with 39 assists and 10 digs while junior middle blocker Molly Lohman had seven kills and three blocks.

Minnesota followed Friday’s performance with another sweep against Hawaii on Saturday.

The game was somewhat of a rematch. The Gophers defeated the Rainbow Wahine 3-1 last season, a victory that advanced Minnesota to the Final Four.

Hawaii couldn’t avenge the loss though, and Minnesota won 25-17, 25-17, 25-19. The Gophers only trailed once in the entire match.

Hawaii was seen as a strong competitor coming in but suffered a devastating blow when its kills leader, Nikki Taylor, went down with a lower leg injury three points into the match.

“It was disappointing to see [Taylor] get hurt,” McCutcheon said. “We wish her a full recovery and a speedy one at that. Obviously, she was a big part of Hawaii’s plan.”

Hawaii seemed disjointed for most of the match, and Minnesota was able to take advantage offensively and defensively.

Wilhite again led the team with 13 kills and completed the double-double with 11 digs.

Paige Tapp and Lohman both had 10 kills to tie for second. Seliger-Swenson had 41 assists and libero Dalianliz Rosado had 17 digs.

The Gophers keep home court advantage in the regional rounds.

Minnesota starts with No. 15 Missouri on Friday at 7:15 p.m.

As a unit, Minnesota played with rhythm and cohesion, firing on all cylinders for the entirety of the matches. The team hopes to build on that synchronization going forward.

“One of our biggest strengths is our team unity, and I think that helps us every single day,” said senior middle blocker Paige Tapp. “I think we’re each other’s biggest fans. That’s helped us. I hope on the court that everyone can see that we’re playing for each other.”