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Minnesota Volleyball: Final Four Preview

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No. 2 Minnesota will play the first Final Four match tonight at 6:00 CT on ESPN against No. 6 Stanford. Three Gophers were named AVCA All-Americans and Paige Tapp was announced as the Senior CLASS award winner.

Gophersports.com

While Minnesota is a good, established volleyball program they haven’t experienced the same sustained tournament success that the other three programs in the Final Four have. Two wins this weekend however could put them on the path to join these elite programs.

Minnesota (27-4) is fairly familiar with the three other teams in the Final Four. They played No. 2 Stanford (25-7) during the first week of the season and last season No. 4 Texas (26-4) ended their season at this point in the tournament. Of course they face No. 1 Nebraska (31-2) every season, including two five set matches this season.

Minnesota and Stanford play first at 6:00 CT on ESPN followed by Nebraska and Texas scheduled tentatively for 8:30 CT.

Minnesota’s journey to the Final Four started with wins over North Dakota and Hawaii. Next, they defeated No. 15 Missouri and No. 10 UCLA. Stanford advanced to Final Four by first beating Denver and Boise State. In the Madison regional, they defeated No. 16 FSU and upset the host, No. 3 Wisconsin, in five sets.

Stanford this season is ranked 9th in the final AVCA poll and 11th in final RPI. The Cardinal have been in every NCAA Volleyball Tournament as this is their 36th appearance. They are 113-30 in the tournament boasting six National Championships; 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, and 2004. The 2004 win came in a sweep over the Gophers, as that is Minnesota’s only national final appearance. Stanford has also played in an additional eight National Championship games, most recently in 2008 during a run of three consecutive runner-up finishes. In 2015, their season ended at the hands of Loyola Marymount in the second round. Head Coach John Dunning is in his 16th year leading the Cardinal and has four National Championships to his name, two at Stanford and two at Pacific.

Stanford is 3-0 in neutral site matches this season and 11-2 on the road. Minnesota and Stanford had five opponents in common this season; Stanford went 2-4 against them and Minnesota went 5-1. Stanford’s wins came against Illinois and Penn State and Minnesota beat San Diego, Illinois, Purdue and UCLA and they split matches with Penn State. Stanford is battle tested going 12-4 against AVCA top 25 opponents, many in Pac-12 play where they finished third behind Washington and UCLA. The Pac-12 and Big Ten both sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Stanford leads the series with Minnesota 7-0. The most recent matchup was way back in the first week of the season; Stanford beat Minnesota 3-1 in Palo Alto. The Gopher outside hitters, Sarah Wilhite and Alexis Hart struggled both hitting .000 only tallying eight kills each. The Tapp twins combined for 30 kills and 12 blocks. Stanford outhit the Gophers .142-.233, which was a season low for Minnesota, and out-blocked them 12.5-17.5. Minnesota obviously improved since then, as has Stanford, whose four freshman starters have came on strong. Additionally since that match the Cardinal switched from a 6-2 offense to 5-1.

Stanford is tall. Their setter is 6’1 and she is the shortest person to play along the net for the Cardinal. Their shortest hitter, middle blocker, Inky Ajanaku, 6’3, is a four-time All-American. The rest come in at 6’4, 6’6, and 6’8. All this height and length has allowed them to lead the nation with 3.33 blocks per set and hit .277, 10th best in the country. The Cardinal are led by Ajanaku but are consistent across the board.

Minnesota’s passing will have to be on point against Stanford so they can stay in system and beat the block. If ball-control is lacking it could get ugly for Minnesota. Good news for Minnesota is that they are playing some of their best volleyball right now. All five hitters are averaging over 2 kills per set in the Tournament, all but one exceeding their season average. Paige Tapp has came on strong late in the season is averaging nearly one kill more in the tournament than her season average, 3.0-2.08.

Team Stat Comparison

K/S H % A/S SA/S D/S B/S
K/S H % A/S SA/S D/S B/S
Minnesota 14.24 0.293 13.31 1.11 14.89 2.68
Opponents 13.03 0.192 12.43 0.84 13.59 1.76
Stanford 14.15 0.277 13.20 0.98 14.26 3.33
Opponents 12.85 0.178 12.18 0.97 14.07 1.97

Key Players

class, position, # name , stats, (statistical rank nationally)

Postions: M- middle blocker, OH- outside hitter, Opp- opposite hitter, DS- defensive specialist, L- libero, S- setter

Stats: K/S- kills/set, B/S- blocks/set, D/S- digs/set. .000- hitting percentage, A/S- assists/set, SA/S service aces/set

Sr. M 4 Paige Tapp- 2.08 K/S, .304, 1.08 B/S

Sr. M 7 Hannah Tapp*A2- 2.72 K/S, .326, 1.06 B/S

Sr. OH 8 Sarah Wilhite*P A1- 4.20 K/S (35), .293, 2.57 D/S

So. S 11 Samantha Seliger-Swenson*S A1- 11.60 A/S (8), 2.38 D/S, 0.25 SA/S

Jr. M 13 Molly Lohman^AH- .368 (34), 1.39 B/S (21)

Jr. L 17 Dalianliz Rosado- 4.06 D/S

Fr. OH 19 Alexis Hart!AH- 2.85 K/S

* All-Big Ten selection

^ All-Big Ten Honorable Mention

! Big Ten All-Freshman selection

P Big Ten Player of the Year

S Big Ten Setter of the Year

A1 AVCA All-American First Team

A2 AVCA All-American Second Team

AH AVCA All-American Honorable Mention

Stanford

Fr. S 1 Jenna Gray- 8.87 A/S

Fr. OH/S 2 Kathryn Plummer+&%A1 AF- 3.29 K/S, .263, 0.88 B/S

Fr. L 9 Morgan Hentz~&- 4.76 D/S

Sr. MB 12 Inky Ajanaku+A1- 2.81 K/S, .410 (13), 1.5 B/S (7)

Fr. Opp 17 Merete Lutz+A3- 2.31 K/S, .284, 1.03 B/S

Fr. MB 24 Aurdriana Fitzmorris~&AH- 2.40 K/S, .313, 1.45 B/S (13)

+ All Pac-12

~ All Pac-12 Honorable Mention

& Pac-12 All-Freshman selection

% Pac-12 Freshman of the Year

A1 AVCA All-American First Team

A3 AVCA All-American Third Team

AH AVCA All-American Honorable Mention

AF AVCA Freshman of the Year

Six Gophers have already won a national title in Columbus, Ohio. Sarah Wilhite, Paige Tapp, Hannah Tapp, Alyssa Goehner, Erica Handley, and Samanthan Seliger-Sweson all played on the Northern Lights club team that won the U-17 Open National Championship in 2012.

Yesterday numerous accolades were announced for members of the Gopher Volleyball team. Paige Tapp was named the Senior CLASS award recipient. She is the first Gopher to receive the the award.

Three Gophers were also honored as AVCA All-Americans . Senior Sarah Wilhite, who previously had not received a post-season award during her college career was named to the First Team, as was sophomore Samantha Seliger-Swenson who was a Second Team All-American last season. Hannah Tapp picked up a second All-American selection as she was named to the Second Team after being a First Team selection in 2015. Freshman Alexis Hart and Junior Molly Lohman were named honorable mention.

The AVCA player of the year will be named Friday, but ESPNW gave their Player of the Year accolade to Sarah Wilhite.