Minnesota falls to Stanford 3-1 in first round of Final Four

The Gophers are now 0-8 all-time against the Cardinal.

The Gophers volleyball team huddles up in preparation for the national semifinal match on Dec. 15. Minnesota lost 3-1 to Stanford in its second consecutive Final Four.

Tommy Sletten

The Gophers volleyball team huddles up in preparation for the national semifinal match on Dec. 15. Minnesota lost 3-1 to Stanford in its second consecutive Final Four.

Tommy Sletten

Minnesota saw its hopeful season come to an end on Thursday with a 3-1 loss to Stanford in the national semifinal.

The Gophers lost 26-24 and 25-19 in the first two sets. They made a comeback and won the third 25-22, but the Cardinal emerged victorious in a 25-22 fourth.

“Congratulations to Stanford, they played a really good match,” said Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon. “I’m obviously disappointed to not continue in the tournament, but as much as it stinks in the short term, when you put in this body of work, you have lots to be proud of, especially from this group.”

The height of Stanford proved to be too much for Minnesota again; the Gophers had already lost to the Cardinal earlier in the season.

With 6’6 Kathryn Plummer, 6’8 Merete Lutz, and 6’3 Inky Ajanaku plugging up the middle, Minnesota saw a shrinking hitting percentage for a match total of just .149, and succumbed to Stanford’s 18 blocks.

“Stanford is a great blocking team, they played great out there,” senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite said. “I just think as hitters, [the height] makes it hard to combat the block.”

The Gophers did not go down without a fight, though.

With the season hanging in the balance, down two sets to none, ESPNW Player of the Year Wilhite led a charge to win the third set for Minnesota 25-22.

Wilhite had 25 kills in her final match, and accumulated 13 digs.

However, Stanford was too difficult to hit around down the stretch.

With 18 blocks as a team, and 80 digs, their defense was almost impenetrable for the night, forcing Minnesota to commit mistake after mistake.

Both Ajanaku and Plummer had 15 kills, leading Stanford’s steady attack through the night.

Minnesota struggled to find rhythm all night, and were unable to hit above .260 in any set in the match.

Minnesota’s senior class gave a huge amount to the program over the last four years, including two consecutive Final Four trips.

“It’s been a privilege to play under a coaching staff and to play with the teammates that we have. It hurts finishing this way, but we did have a great season, and I’m proud of our team. Throughout the four years we were always fighting, we were always connecting and unified, and I think that’s something to be proud of,” Wilhite said.

Despite the losses of six seniors out of this class, there is hope for the future with the performances seen tonight.

Junior middle blocker Molly Lohman had a productive evening and hit .421 with eight kills and had a team-high eight blocks as well.

Junior libero Dalianliz Rosado had a team-high 16 digs, while first team All-American sophomore setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson had 50 assists.

Star freshman outside hitter Alexis Hart also shined at times, getting 11 kills and four blocks, but struggled to find accuracy and only hit .050.

“Sadly we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, and the seniors are amazing and I appreciate everything they have done,” Hart said.

While this year was not the storybook ending that Minnesota had hoped for, the future may still shine bright for the Gophers.