Gophers were close to tournament elimination

LOS ANGELES — Already trailing by two games, and with USC serving 14-11 for the match, Minnesota’s volleyball team was in trouble.
The Gophers found themselves in a valley larger than Los Angeles and watching the Trojans as they marched up the Hollywood Hills on their way to the sweet 16.
So when Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert look a timeout to talk to his troops, the match seemed like a lost cause.
Minnesota was being out-hit, out-passed, out-dug and out-blocked by a USC team that fed off its home crowd.
But when the Gophers retook the court after the timeout, the atmosphere at Lyon Recreation Center began to shift like the San Andreas fault.
It’s not really clear when the momentum shifted to Minnesota. But in the end it didn’t really matter.
Hebert said any team that loses the first two games of a match typically comes back to win the third game. So it didn’t surprise him when the Gophers battled back to capture that game.
What did surprise him came midway through the fourth game. Minnesota quickly found itself back in a hole, down 8-0.
But that’s why they play to 15. Minnesota came flying back to knot things at 10. When the Gophers tied it up, Hebert said he began to believe something special might be under way.
“The comeback (in the fourth) was where I saw it,” Hebert said. “When we tied it, I started saying ‘wait a minute.’ I saw our players pumping their fists in the air and saw some of the SC players begin to look at each other, then I thought it was going to happen.”
The Gophers won game four in remarkable fashion to force the rally in the fifth.
At that point Trojans coach Jerritt Elliott was squirming on his bench. Elliott, however, still felt his team was in control of the match until late in the fifth, when Minnesota went ahead 12-8.
“In game four we had a couple of opportunities at points, and I thought we were in control,” Elliot said. “It was late in game five when I thought it was starting to slip away. From a body language standpoint they were really aggressive, and that concerned me.”
When the final ball dropped on the side of USC, Elliott’s concern turned to confusion — the Gophers netted a 15-10, game-five win.
A comeback that seemed nearly impossible just took place and Minnesota’s players stormed the court.
The Trojans, however, seemed more surprised they lost than the Spartans were after receiving the gift of the Trojan horse.
After the match, the postgame press conferences told two different tales.
USC players Antoinette Polk and Jennifer Pahl were fighting back tears, as Elliott pondered what went wrong.
Meanwhile, the Gophers were jubilant.
Hebert said the win will go down in history as one of the best.
“They are an amazing group,” Hebert said of his team. “I have to think this is one of the great comebacks in NCAA history, and we’ll always be proud to be a part of it.”
As the press conference ended, sophomore setter Lindsey Berg strolled out of the room singing “I love L.A.”
How could the Gophers not?

John R. Carter covers volleyball and welcomes comments at [email protected]