Gophers sweep their way into the Final Four

Minnesota will make its second consecutive Final Four appearance beginning on Thursday.

The Gophers volleyball team celebrates its sweep of UCLA, their fourth-straight NCAA win, in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. The Gophers will move on in the NCAA tournament to face Stanford in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 15.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

The Gophers volleyball team celebrates its sweep of UCLA, their fourth-straight NCAA win, in the Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. The Gophers will move on in the NCAA tournament to face Stanford in Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 15.

Tommy Sletten

No. 2 seed Minnesota is headed to the Final Four for the second year in a row.

The Gophers won the regional final in straight sets, sweeping the UCLA Bruins 25-23, 25-20, 25-21.

“We’re certainly happy to be advancing in the tournament, no question,” said head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “It was a very challenging match tonight, and I was extremely proud of our athletes for the way they responded to the different style of play from UCLA.”

The Gophers looked nervous coming into the match, and UCLA won the first six points to start.

After a timeout called by McCutcheon, Minnesota regrouped, and took the set from under the feet of the Bruins.

UCLA was a heavy hitting team, and tried to overwhelm the Gophers with a litany of attacks.

But, Minnesota was digging up everything, led by junior libero Dalianliz Rosado who had 17 digs on the night.

Rosado was all over the court, sacrificing her body for the benefit of her team, and digging Minnesota out of some sticky situations.

“I thought she was particularly impressive tonight,” McCutcheon said. “She made some really big plays, and I’m very happy to see that from her. She adds a ton of value to our team, mainly because she’s consistent. Tonight, not only was she consistent, but at times, she was spectacular.”

Minnesota was led in kills by senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite, who had 15, followed by freshman outside hitter Alexis Hart, who had 11.

Minnesota will enter the Final Four with heaps of experience, as they advanced there last year as well.

Hart, who has played exceptionally well through the first rounds of the tournament, will be the only contributing player who has no experience in the Final Four, but is excited to get it started.

“I’m excited, there’s a lot of great teams playing,” Hart said. “I just can’t wait to get out there.”

Minnesota’s Wilhite, Lohman and Seliger-Swenson were all named to the All-Tournament Team, with Wilhite serving as MVP.

The match marked the 36th consecutive win at the Sports Pavilion for the Gophers.

Minnesota will play Stanford in the national semifinal in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday at 6 p.m.