Gophers volleyball advances to Sweet 16 with sweep of Northern Iowa
The win puts the Gophers on a collision course with Ohio State on Thursday in Austin, Texas.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There is little the University of Minnesota hasn’t accomplished since Hugh McCutcheon took over as head coach of the volleyball program in 2012. A perennial powerhouse during McCutcheon’s tenure, the Gophers have won a pair of Big Ten titles, have made it to the Final Four three times and McCutcheon himself has twice been named the conference’s coach of the year.
But there’s one thing that’s evaded Minnesota: an NCAA tournament title.
Minnesota’s hopes remain alive after sweeping Northern Iowa — 25-18, 25-16, 25-15 — in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday night at Maturi Pavilion in McCutcheon’s last home match as head coach, reaching the Sweet 16 for the eighth straight season.
“At the beginning of the match, it was a handful,” McCutcheon said. “They were hitting, I think, at the first media timeout, they were hitting .529 or something and it was on, but to our athletes’ credit, they hung there and just kept playing good Gopher volleyball and were able to turn things around.”
They ensured a return trip to the Sweet 16 on Saturday after sweeping Southeastern Louisiana and Northern Iowa on consecutive nights. While the Panthers hung close in the first set on Saturday, the Gophers eventually pulled away, making adjustments throughout the match.
“Blocking-wise, we were in much better positions, but I think also, we don’t need to do anything super special to make good plays, and I think that’s what we were able to do because we were like, ‘You know what? They can’t sustain hitting .600, .700 this whole match,’ so if we can just keep playing good Gopher volleyball, we’ll hang in there,” libero CC McGraw said.
The Gophers were led in part by a strong performance from freshman Carter Booth. The 6-foot-7 middle blocker, who was named to the All-Big Ten First Team, finished the day with six kills and a career-high 11 blocks.
The Gophers finished the day with 16 blocks to the Panthers’ three, using their height advantage to dominate at the net.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Landfair, the Big Ten’s Player of the Year, finished the day with a team-high 11 kills, part of a .287 hitting day for the Gophers.
The win puts the Gophers on a collision course with Ohio State on Thursday in Austin, Texas. Minnesota split its two matches with the Buckeyes this season, getting swept by the Buckeyes at home in October before more recently taking a four-set victory on Nov. 25 in Columbus.
“What happened in the past … I’m not sure it’s irrelevant but I’m not sure it matters, either,” McCutcheon said. “I mean what matters is you get down to Texas and go lock in and go compete, so that’s the task. We’ll look for a good match against a good team.”
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