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Minnesota Volleyball: NCAA Tournament First Weekend Preview

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With the No. 2 seed, Minnesota will open tournament play at the Pav Friday evening at 7:00 against Bryant. The Gophers could run into some familiar teams on their path to the Final Four.

Jon Johnston

After going 25-3 this season and only dropping one Big Ten match, Minnesota earned the second overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. This is the Gophers 23rd tournament appearance, the third time as a No. 2 seed which is the highest seed the program has earned. Hugh’s team will look to surpass the 2004 team’s runner-up finish and become just the 11th program to win a National Championship. With one of the top four seeds, Minnesota will stay in Minneapolis all tournament long as they’ll host regionals at the Pav and the Final Four will be played at the Target Center downtown.

With the Big Ten title already wrapped up Minnesota dropped their lone match of the Big Ten slate last weekend; Friday evening the Gophers fell to Penn State in five sets. Minnesota followed it up with a sweep over Rutgers to cap off the regular season.

This Friday evening Minnesota will play the second match. South Carolina and Colorado will square off in the first match at 4:30 followed by the Gophers versus Bryant at 7:00. Both matches on Friday will be available on BTN+/BTN2GO for free. Saturday’s match will air on BTN; the match is tentatively set for 7:00.

Big Ten Honors

Every Gopher in the regular lineup received some sort of distinction from the conference this season. Senior, setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson led the way taking home conference Player of the Year and Co-Setter of the Year honors. Coach Hugh McCutcheon was tabbed as the Big Ten Coach of the Year by his peers and the media. Seliger-Swenson was joined by Stephanie Samedy and Regan Pittman as First Team selections; Samedy was a unanimous selection. Alexis Hart, Taylor Morgan, and Adanna Rollins were named to the Second Team. Rollins and CC McGraw made the All-Freshman team and Lauren Barnes was Minnesota’s Sportsmanship Honoree.

Seliger-Swenson is the third Gopher since 2015 to be named the Big Ten Player of the Year. This season she set the Gophers to a .300 clip in conference play. Key in the Gophers efficiency has been their balance as Seliger-Swenson has spread the ball around; Samedy Minnesota’s kill leader in conference play has only 63 more kills than Pittman who has the least kills among the five hitters. Seliger-Swenson put 848 assists in conference play, 12.11 per set. She leads the team with 31 aces on the season, 24 in Big Ten play. Seliger-Swenson was the Big Ten Setter of the Week seven times this season.

Samedy led Minnesota this season with 326 kills, 3.51 per set while nearly hitting .300. She also is second on the team with 275 digs helping her to post 14 double-doubles.

Pittman has been the most efficient Gopher this season hitting .407 while putting away 2.59 kills per set. She also leads the team in total blocks with 107.

Hart passed the 1,000 kill plateau this season while averaging 2.92 kills per set.

Rollins started the season as a defensive specialist before becoming a six-rotation player. Rollins owned the role averaging 2.56 kills per set and 2.62 digs per set.

Like Rollins, McGraw was a day one starter posting 385 digs so far this season. Her 4.1 digs per set in conference play were ninth best in the league.

Tournament Outlook

Bracket

Being a top seed and having home court advantage will certainly help the Gophers in their quest for a National Championship. They also got a favorable draw. The other seeded teams in Minnesota’s region are No. 7 Nebraska, No. 10 Kentucky, and No. 15 Oregon. Minnesota swept the season series with the Huskers this season and the match with the Ducks, which Minnesota lost, was the first Rollins played all six-rotations in. Kentucky could face Nebraska in the regional semi-final which would be a rematch of last year’s regional final in Lexington. The Wildcats have two outstanding but will first have to make it out of a competitive sub-regional.

Overall No. 1 Stanford will have to contend with Pac-12 foe No. 16 Washington State, a veteran-led No. 9 Creighton squad, and No. 8 Penn State who has a history ending Cardinal title runs over the years. Also on their side of the bracket is No. 5 Texas and unseeded Florida who is finally healthy. BYU did get the No. 4 seed but its hard to imagine them making the Final Four since they lost a starter to injury.

As for No. 3 Illinois, it will likely come down to them and No. 6 Wisconsin for a spot in the Final Four. The only big-time name in that regional is No. 11 USC, otherwise, there are some teams who have had solid seasons but won’t be able to hang with the class of the Big Ten and Pac-12.

Top 16 Seeds

1. Stanford

2. Minnesota

3. Illinois

4. BYU

5. Texas

6. Wisconsin

7. Nebraska

8. Penn State

9. Creighton

10. Kentucky

11. Southern California

12. Pittsburgh

13. UCF

14. Marquette

15. Oregon

16. Washington State

Minnesota

This weekend it will be key for the Gophers to get their rhythm back offensively and passing. The more Seliger-Swenson can spread the ball around the better. None of the teams this weekend can keep pace with the Minnesota offense but if they can’t feed their middles Minnesota could drop a set. Opening with Bryant should allow the Gophers to iron out any wrinkles.

Key Players

class, height, position, # name, stats, (statistical rank nationally)
Positions: MB- middle blocker, OH- outside hitter, RS- right side 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

So. 5’6 DS 2 Lauren Barnes- 2.58 D/S, 0.29 SA/S

Fr. 5’9 L 7 CC McGraw- 3.97 D/S

So. 6’2 RS 10 Stephanie Samedy- 3.51 K/S, .294, 2.96 D/S, 0.76 B/S

Jr. 6’0 MB 12 Taylor Morgan- 2.45 K/S, .390 (17), 1.04 B/S

Sr. 5’11 S 13 Samantha Seliger-Swenson- 11.76 A/S (7), 2.46 D/S, 0.32 SA/S

Jr. 6’0 OH 19 Alexis Hart- 2.92 K/S, .239

Fr. 6’0 OH 20 Adanna Rollins- 2.56 K/S, .245, 2.62 D/S

So. 6’5 MB 21 Regan Pittman- 2.59 K/S, .407 (6), 1.11 B/S

Minnesota Team Stats

Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
Minnesota 14.87 (5) .299 (5) 13.75 (8) 1.28 16.49 2.42
Opponents 13.11 .189 12.65 0.84 15.15 1.70

Bryant

Bryant (22-12, 10-4) made the tournament after winning the Northeast Conference Tournament. The Bulldogs earned their birth in the NEC tournament by tying for second place in the regular season standings. Bryant is one of six NCAA Tournament newcomers this year. The Bulldogs came in at 202 in this past week’s RPI rankings. This will be the second meeting between Minnesota and the Bulldogs; the teams played in 2015, Minnesota swept Bryant.

Judging by RPI Bryant is the same caliber of team as Rutgers (RPI 204). Bryant will have to play flawlessly if they’re going to sniff an upset. The Bulldogs don’t hit or block well which puts them behind the eight ball so we could see some lopsided set scores.

Key Players

Fr. 5’10 OH/RS 2 Caroline Kennedy~- 2.99 K/S

Sr. 5’11 OH 3 Kristin Kingi~- 2.62 K/S, 3.6 D/S

Sr. 5’10 S/RS 11 Kirstyn Sperry- 7.5 A/S, 2.53 D/S, 0.38 SA/S

So. 5’1 L 12 Erika Ward~- 4.31 D/S

Sr. 5’9 OH 13 Julia Flynn*-3.28 K/S, 2.87 D/S

Sr. 5’9 S ?20 Julia Malet- 3.68 K/S

*NEC First Team All-Conference

~NEC Second Team All-Conference

Bryant Team Stats

Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
Comparison Kills/Set Hitting % Assists/Set Aces/Set Digs/Set Blocks/Set
Bryant 13.60 .192 12.74 1.26 16.44 1.56
Opponents 11.28 .178 10.57 1.02 14.51 2.50