Gophers volleyball earns third seed in NCAA Tournament

Minnesota’s first match in the 2021 tournament will be the second round against either Lipscomb or Georgia Tech.

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Kamaan Richards

The Gophers huddle to celebrate defeating Oral Roberts three sets to none at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.

Brendan O'Brien, Sports Reporter

After finishing second in the Big Ten and third in the nation with a 15-2 record in an atypical volleyball season, Minnesota’s next stop in 2021 will be the NCAA Tournament.

The Gophers earned the No. 3 seed in the tournament field out of 48 total teams. The top-16 teams seeded in the field receive first-round byes, so Minnesota’s first match will not be until April 15 in the second round against either Lipscomb or Georgia Tech.

“I’m extremely proud of the team. The ability week in and week out to step on the court and compete is something we took for granted a year and a half ago,” Gophers head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “It feels pretty special to come through a pretty rigorous season and then be rewarded with a high seed. We’re looking forward to the next phase of the season.”

Minnesota is coming into the tournament with a 4-1 record in the last three weeks, with the only loss coming to Big Ten champion Wisconsin, the top-seeded team in the tournament. Prior to those five matches, the Gophers’ season was disrupted and they missed five of seven matches in the middle of the season.

In 2019, the Gophers made their third run to the Final Four under McCutcheon only to have their season come to an end in the semifinals against eventual national champion Stanford. Minnesota hopes to make another deep run in the tournament, but knows the importance of not looking too far into the future, especially in a season disrupted by COVID-19.

“You have to take these things one day at a time because it’s tournament time and there are no guarantees. Relative to the team, we’ll take it one day, match, set and point at a time,” McCutcheon said.

The Gophers have played their last six regular season matches without libero C.C. McGraw, as she has been sidelined due to a lower body injury and could continue to miss time in the tournament. Nevertheless, the roster is not void of talent, and the Gophers have had time to adjust without one of their leaders in the back row.

Like other NCAA championship events, one major difference in the tournament this year is that it will be held in one central location. The tournament runs from April 14-24 in Omaha, Nebraska.