Minnesota headed to the Final Four

The last remaining teams are Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and the Gophers.

Outside hitter Sarah Wilhite prepares to serve the ball to Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 11.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Outside hitter Sarah Wilhite prepares to serve the ball to Penn State in the Sports Pavilion on Nov. 11.

by Emily Polglaze

Last year, the Gophers missed the NCAA Tournament. This season, they’ve made it all the way to the national semifinal. 
Minnesota swept Illinois on Friday and beat Hawaii for the first time in program history on Saturday to advance to the Final Four in Omaha, Neb., where they’ll play University of Texas-Austin at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
“This is hard work that is going on without any promise of reward. When you work hard, things happen,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon told reporters on Saturday. “These athletes all put trust in the process without knowing what the result would be.”
It’s the Gophers’ fourth trip to the Final Four since 2003, and only four schools have more appearances in that span. 
The Illini took a 17-12 lead the first set in Minnesota’s (30-4) first match in the Des Moines regional. Minnesota tied the score at 22-22 with a block from junior Hannah Tapp and sophomore Molly Lohman and continued its run from there to take the set 25-22.
The reverse happened in the second set, as the Gophers got out to a 10-5 lead, but Illinois responded to tie the set 18-18.
The match remained close until the end with tie scores at 19, 20, 21 and 22 points, but a kill from senior Daly Santana gave Minnesota the second set 25-23.
The Gophers led most of the way in the third set on their way to a sweep, hitting a match-high .543 in the final set.
The Illini came within two points trailing 16-14, but Minnesota went on a 6-0 run and won the third set 25-17. Junior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite led the Gophers with 20 kills and hit .500 in the match. 
It was the first time Minnesota had ever swept a team to reach the Elite Eight. 
The Gophers’ next opponent was Hawaii after the Rainbow Wahine upset Penn State in the regional.
Minnesota got out to an 8-7 lead in the first set and stayed ahead to win 25-18.
The Gophers jumped out to an even bigger lead in the second set and won 25-13. Minnesota hit .440 to the Rainbow Wahine’s .059 in the set for the victory.
Hawaii spoiled a potential sweep in the third set with a 26-24 victory, giving the Gophers their first set loss of the NCAA Tournament.
The fourth set was also close, but the Gophers pulled ahead at the end and came away with a 25-21 victory to seal the match.
“They had some good swings, but I think that we moved on to the next point very fast,” Wilhite told reporters on Saturday. “We didn’t tense up just because they had gotten a great kill.”
Santana had 26 kills and 12 digs, and Hannah Tapp hit a team-high .600.
Santana, Tapp and Wilhite were named to the All-Tournament Team for the region, and Santana was named Outstanding Player of the Regional. 
“We’ve put in the work. I don’t think there’s any other way around it,” Santana told reporters on Saturday. “There’s no magic, just real work.”