MINNESOTA BEGINS SECOND SEASON
The University of Minnesota begins its second season Friday night when it hosts a pair of NCAA First Round matches. Colorado and South Carolina will compete in the first match of the evening, set for 4:30 p.m., followed by the Gophers facing Bryant at 7 p.m. The winner of each match will advance to the Second Round, in a tentative 7 p.m., start on Saturday.
FOLLOW THE GOPHERS
Friday’s match against the Bryant Bulldogs will be available, free of charge, through BTN Plus. Should the Gophers advance to the NCAA Second Round, Minnesota and the winner of the Colorado/South Carolina match will be televised live on Big Ten Network. Gophersports.com will also feature a game day live page.
GOPHERS IN THE NCAA TOURNEY
The 2018 season marks the 23rd year the Golden Gophers have advanced to the NCAA tournament and the third time since 2015 they have landed a No. 2 seed. Minnesota was also a No. 2 seed in 2015 and 2016, as that ties the program’s highest seed in program history. Minnesota has had a top 10 seed the past four seasons, as it was the No. 7 overall seed in 2017. In all, Minnesota has been to five Final Fours, eight Sweet 16 berths and two Elite 8 appearances. In its 22 previous appearances, Minnesota is 21-1 in the First Round, including a 5-0 mark against head coach Hugh McCutcheon.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONS
With the five-set win over Ohio State (Nov. 17), Minnesota clinched the 2018 Big Ten championship, in Columbus, Ohio. It marked the third conference championship for the Gophers in program history and the second since 2015. Minnesota clinched the title outright on the last game of the season in 2015, while the Gophers won it this year with two matches remaining in the 2018 regular season schedule.
With the win, the Gophers also punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament. With no conference tournament in volleyball, the Big Ten regular season champion solidified the league’s automatic bid.
BEST BIG TEN SEASON
The 2018 Gophers went 19-1 in Big Ten action this season. That record marked the best conference record in school history. Minnesota went 18-0 before it lost a conference match in five sets to Penn State. In that span, Minnesota defeated four top five opponents five times in Penn State (once), Wisconsin and Nebraska (twice). The Gophers also swept 13 of its 18 opponents. The 2018 Gophers improved their previous Big Ten best when Minnesota won 15-straight in 2015. In that season the Gophers finished with an 18-2 league record.
Bryant University claimed their first Northeast Conference title after it swept Sacred Heart in the conference championship. The Bulldogs ended the regular season 22-12 overall and 10-4 in conference play. Freshman Caroline Kennedy leads the team with 404 kills (2.99/set) and is followed by Kristin Kingi with 356 and Julia Flynn with 341. Kirstyn Sperry has recorded 998 assists (7.50/set) and Erika Ward has a team-high 543 digs (4.31/set). Middle blocker Grace Richmeyer leads the Bulldogs with 100 total blocks and averages .77 per set. Flynn was tabbed as the Northeast Conference MVP and was named to the all-conference team alongside Ward and Richmeyer. As a team, Bryant University averages 13.60 kills per set, 16.44 digs per set, 12.24 assists per set, 1.56 blocks per set and are hitting .192.
The Buffs received an at-large bid after posting an 18-13 overall record and 10-10 in the PAC-12. Alexa Smith has a team-high 449 kills (3.74/set) and Justine Spann follows with 353 kills (2.94/set). In the middle, Naghede Abu (128) and Danielle Price (124) leads the team in blocks, averaging 1.41 and 1.14 blocks per set respectively. Jenna Ewert has recorded 809 assists (6.74/set) and Rachel Whipple leads the team with 397 digs (3.31). As a team, Colorado averages 14.31 digs per set, 13.33 kills per set while hitting .238, 12.49 assists per set and 2.66 blocks per set.
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and went 19-9 overall and 10-8 in the SEC. The Gamecocks average 13.00 digs per set, 12.64 kills per set, 11.49 assists per set, 1.84 blocks per set and are hitting .237. Mikayla Shields has a team-high 335 kills (3.22/set) and has recorded 247 digs (2.38/set). Brittany MCLean is second on the team in kills with 286 (2.80/set). Mikayla Robinson has a team-best 96 blocks, including 22 solo, and averages .92 per set. Junior setter Courtney Koehler has tallied 1035 assists and averages 9.95 per set. Aubrey leads the defense with 376 digs.
Friday’s match will mark the second time the Gophers and Bryant Bulldogs will face each other in program history. Minnesota defeated Bryant in 2015, 3-0, at the College of Charleston tournament. If Minnesota advances, they would face either Colorado or South Carolina. The Gophers have not faced the Gamecocks since 1984 and has gone 1-2 all-time. Minnesota’s last bout with Colorado came in the Second Round of the 2013 NCAA tournament when the Gophers defeated the Buffs, 3-2, also at the Pav.
(info and picture courtesy of Gopher Sports)