Minnesota is an elite Volleyball program....except for one thing, they have never won the national championship. Will this be the year they will break through? They are only two more victories away from making that happen, but to do so they will have to face other elite programs. Nebraska has made the final six times, winning three (1995,2000, & 2006). If they defeat Nebraska, this will be Kansas's first final appearance. Minnesota, after the be shutout of the tournament last year and winning the Big Ten this year are hungry to make their second final appearance (runner up in 2004). Do do that they must first get past Texas who has made four appearances in the final game, winning the national title twice (1988, 2012)
Who will win?
First, lets set some mood music.
Now that you have that ear worm playing in your ear for at least the rest of this article, let's discuss the Gopher Volleyball team and their journey back to the Final Four. Minnesota is no stranger to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament; in fact they have made it to the tournament every year since 1996 when AVCA Hall-of-Fame coach Mike Hebert (coached 1996-2011) took over the program, with just two exceptions (they also made it twice, 1989 & 1993 under coach Stephanie Schuleuder). The first of those exceptions was 1998 (Hebert) and last year (2014) under current coach Hugh McCutcheon, then in his third year. During that span, the Gophers made the Final Four three times, 2003, 2004, & 2009. In 2004 the Gophers made it all of the way to the final game, losing to Stanford. This year marks the Gophers 4th appearance since 2003, with only Penn State (7), Texas (6), Stanford (5) and USC (5) having more appearances during that span.
The Tournament So Far
Having won the Big Ten outright with a 26-4 record (18-2), the Gophers' entered the tournament this year as the #2 seed. The Gopher's finished the regular season ranked #4 in the AVCA Coaches poll and #2 in RPI. The fist two games of the tournament for Minnesota were played on their home court, the Sports Pavilion, where the Gophers were undefeated this season. They defeated Jackson State 3-0 on December 4th and the next day defeated Marquette 3-0. The Gopher's then traveled to Des Moines where they defeated fellow Big Ten school, University of Illinois (#21 in Coaches), 3-0 December 12th, and finally Hawaii 3-1 on December 12th.
Hawaii (#7 in Coaches) finished the year 29-2, with their only other loss on the season coming against UCLA on September 6th. Hawaii's season included wins against Big Ten schools Iowa and Penn State. Due to her great performances so far which included 26 kills against Hawaii, Daly Santana (Sr. - Outside Hitter) was named Outstanding Player of the Regional while Hannah Tapp (Jr. - Middle Blocker) and Sarah Wilhite (Jr. - Outside Hitter) were named to the All-Tournament Team along with Santana.
While an amazing nine Big Ten teams made the tournament, only one other remains, the 4th seed Nebraska, who Minnesota defeated twice this season. Minnesota won't get to play Nebraska just yet, as both teams will need to win their semi-final matches on December 17th. Nebraska will have the late game against 5th seed Kansas at 8:30 pm (CST) while Minnesota will take on 3rd seed Texas sat 7:00 pm. Both matches will be broadcast on ESPN2 and are taking place in Omaha Nebraska, surely to be a favorable venue for the Cornhuskers.
These final 3 games will be tough all around but Minnesota has shown that they know how to #DigDeep and finish games this year.
Why has Minnesota gotten so far this year? According to Santana they have worked harder, trained harder, and come together as a team.
Finally, in case you forgot who they are, here is their official intro video for the 2015 season.