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Minnesota Volleyball: 2019 NCAA Tournament Preview

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The Gophers are the #7 seed in this year’s tournament.

Gophersports.com

Despite injuries and an ever-changing lineup Minnesota (23-5, 17-3 2nd) managed to stay near the top of the Big Ten and national standings. They were rewarded with a seed and hosting privileges.

Bracket

The Minneapolis sub-regional will start at 4:30 CT as Iowa State and Creighton will square off. Minnesota versus Fairfield will follow at 7:00 CT or 30 minutes after the first match. The first round matches will be available for free on BTN+. The winners will play Saturday, likely at 8:00 CT on BTN.

Game 1: Iowa State vs Creighton

Game 2: Fairfield vs #7 Minnesota

Tournament Preview

Seeded Teams (Record, RPI, AVCA Rank)

  1. Baylor (25-1, 1, 1)
  2. Texas (21-3, 2, 4)
  3. Stanford (24-4, 3, 3)
  4. Wisconsin (22-6, 5, 5)
  5. Nebraska (25-4, 8, 6)
  6. Pittsburgh (29-1, 4, 2)
  7. Minnesota (23-5, 10, 7)
  8. Washington (24-6, 9, 9)
  9. Kentucky (23-6, 6, 11)
  10. Florida (25-4, 7, 12)
  11. Penn State (24-5, 16, 8)
  12. Hawaii (24-3, 11, 18)
  13. Texas A&M (21-7, 12, 25)
  14. BYU (25-4, 17, 13)
  15. Western Kentucky (31-1, 15, 19)
  16. Purdue (22-7, 21, 14)

The Big Ten had the most teams in the field with seven; #4 Wisconsin, #5 Nebraska, #7 Minnesota, #11 Penn State, #16 Purdue, Michigan, and Illinois. The Pac-12 and SEC put six teams each into the tournament.

Most Vulnerable Seeded Teams

#3 Stanford

BYU, who likely awaits them in the Sweet Sixteen, has had the Cardinal’s number the last few seasons beating them last season and this season. Kathryn Plummer is back and has shaken off the rust after missing all of October. Even so, the Cardinal supporting cast is not quite as formidable as last season.

#6 Pittsburgh

Getting to the hometown Final Four will be heard for the Panthers. A potential rematch with Penn State, their lone loss of the season, awaits them in the Sweet Sixteen.

#9 Kentucky

The Wildcats have been up and down this season. They’ll have to get past Michigan in the second round. The Wolverines have made nice runs over the last few seasons and could make the second weekend again this year.

#13 Texas A&M

The Aggies, to me, are not a top 15 team. Yes, they’ve beat Kentucky, and Mizzou and Louisville who all are top 25 teams, but the Wildcats have been very underwhelming and inconsistent this year. Rice, who beat Texas awaits A&M in the second round.

Must Watch Athletes

  1. Yossiana Pressley- Jr. 6’0 OH Baylor - The image of Yossi flying high above the net went viral after the Bear’s five-set win over Texas. She averages 5.52 kills per set and can single-handedly win matches for the Bears. Just ask Texas and Wisconsin, this year and last, as her 30+ kill efforts have carried the Bears to major wins.
  2. Jordan Thompson- Sr. 6’4 RS/OH Cincinnati - Averages an insane 6.43!!! kills per set, best in the country, while hitting .348. Thompson is an international caliber-talent; she spent the summer with U.S. National Team helping them win the Volley Nations League and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics
  3. Brionne Butler- So 6’4 MB Texas- Another high flyer, Butler can touch 11 feet. She’s one of the best blockers in the country averaging 1.63 per set.
  4. Dana Rettke- Jr. 6’8 MB Wisconsin- Rettke is a very agile 6’8 making her presence known offensively and defensively. She’s been top 10 in the Big Ten in kills, aces, and blocks per set and hitting percentage this season.
  5. Sophia Cerino- Western Kentucky- Cerino’s vicious top-spin serve is highly effective and relatively low-error. Cerino leads the country with 0.75 aces per set and her ace to error ratio is nearly 4:3!!!
  6. Mary Lake- Sr. 5’7 L BYU - Lake is a fearless defender, sacrificing her body over and over to make a play.

Final Four Picks

1 Baylor vs 4 Wisconsin

6 Pittsburgh vs 2 Texas

Minnesota

The Gophers are making their 24th NCAA Tournament appearance having been a top 10 seed each of the last five years. Minnesota is looking to surpass the 2004 team’s National Runner-up finish. The Gophers earned the seven seed have played the 45th toughest schedule and going 5-4 versus the RPI top 25, 4-1 versus 26-50, 4-0 versus 51-100 and 10-0 against 100+ teams. Rematches await Minnesota in the second weekend as they could face Florida who they beat and Texas who they had a spectacular meltdown against in Austin as they got swept earlier in the season.

Minnesota is finally healthy. Kylie Miller is back in the lineup and the Gophers have reverted to the 5-1 offense. Minnesota will just need to play Gopher Volleyball this weekend, spread the ball to all the hitters and take smart swings.

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. 5’9 L 7 CC McGraw*- 4.23 D/S

Jr.. 6’2 RS 10 Stephanie Samedy*- 3.26 K/S, .243, 2.57 D/S, 0.93 B/S

Sr. 6’0 MB 12 Taylor Morgan!- 2.02 K/S, .350, 1.18 B/S

Sr. 5’11 S 15 Kylie Miller- 10.51 A/S, 2.37 D/S, 0.31 SA/S

Sr. 6’0 OH 19 Alexis Hart!- 3.02 K/S, .268

So. 6’0 OH 20 Adanna Rollins- 2.6 K/S, 3.03 D/S

Jr. 6’5 MB 21 Regan Pittman*- 2.31 K/S, .364 (49), 1.43 B/S (10)

*First Team All-Big Ten

!Second Team All-Big Ten

Fairfield

After winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles the Stags (24-5, 17-1) are making their 11th NCAA Tournament appearance. Fairfield was 101st in the RPI standings and their strength of schedule was 297. The Stags played one top 25 team and one other top 100 team losing both matches; their other losses were to teams ranked 120, 191, and 259. This will be the first meeting between Minnesota and Fairfield.

The Stags are led by the MAAC Coach of the Year, Todd Kress. Another key to their success has been the play of MAAC Player and Setter of the Year in setter Manuela Nicolini. Nicolini has a some good hitters to spread the ball around but the Stags won’t stand a chance unless they can pass.

Key Players

Fr. 5’8 L 2 Morgan Doll- 3.74 D/S, 0.29 SA/S

Jr. 6’0 MB 4 Luci Albertson- .346, 0.92 B/S

Sr. 5’7 DS 6 Jamie Calandro- 2.45 D/S, 0.39 SA/S

Fr. 6’0 RS 8 Joelle Battles@$- 2.99 K/S, .258

Sr. 5’11 OH 10 Sonja Radulovic- 2.04 D/S, 0.26 SA/S

So. 6’0 OH 11 Laura Seeger- 2.88 K/S

Sr. 5’9 OH/RS 13 Mayda Garcia#- 2.68 K/S, 3.0 D/S

Jr. 6’1 MB 14 Kaylie Butts#- 2.36 K/S, .314, 1.07 B/S

Sr. 5’11 S 15 Manuela Nicolini@- 11.05 A/S, 3.01 D/S, 0.39 SA/S

@ First Team All-MAAC

# Second Team All-MAAC

$ MAAC All-Rookie

Iowa State

The Cyclones (17-11, 8-8) are back in the NCAA Tournament for the 13th time in the last 14 years, 14th time overall. Iowa State finished fourth in the Big 12 and 46th in RPI. ISU went 0-6 against the RPI top 25, 3-1 versus 26-50, 2-3 versus 51-100, and 12-1 against 100+ teams falling to 119 Kansas. This season Minnesota and Iowa State had three common opponents both lost to Texas and beat Iowa while the Gophers beat Penn State and the Cyclones lost to the Nittany Lions. Head-to-head Minnesota leads the series with Iowa State 11-5 and won the most recent match in 2014 3-1 in Minneapolis.

Whether Iowa State makes it to round two will come down to Eleanor Holthaus. Holthaus has missed the last few matches with an ankle injury but will likely be back in the lineup. If Holthaus doesn’t rebound to form Iowa State will become easier to defend and struggle to score.

Key Players

Sr. 5’10 OH 4 Josie Herbst- 2.45 K/S, .229

So. 6’1 RS 6 Eleanor Holthaus%- 3.24 K/S, .255, 2.36 D/S, 0.85 B/S

Jr. 5’8 L 7 Izzy Enna- 3.22 D/S

Fr. 6’0 OH 8 Michal Schuler- 2.84 D/S, 0.32 SA/S

Fr. 6’1 OH 9 Annie Hatch&- 2.8 K/S

Jr. 6’1 S 11 Piper Mauck^- 10.36 A/S, 2.58 D/S, 0.26 SA/S

So. 6’2 MB 15 Avery Rhodes^- .279, 1.06 B/S

Jr. 6’1 MB 17 Candelaria Herrera%- 2.22 K/S, .317, 0.94 B/S

Minnesota Connection: Holthaus- Rocori, Richmond

% All-Big 12 First Team

^ All-Big 12 Second Team

& All-Big 12 Rookie Team

Creighton

The Creighton Bluejays (24-5, 17-1) finished the regular season in first in the Big East but fell to St. John’s in the tournament semi-finals having to settle for an at-large bid as they make the program’s ninth NCAA tournament. Creighton’s best finish was in 2016 when they made it to the Elite Eight. The Jays were 20th in the RPI having played the 48th toughest schedule. Creighton went 3-3 versus the RPI top 25, 2-0 versus 26-50, 4-2 versus 51-100 and 15-0 against 100+ programs. Minnesota leads the series with the Bluejays 4-0 with the last meeting coming in the NCAA tournament in 2012 as the Gophers won in four. This season Minnesota and Creighton both faced Nebraska and both teams suffered defeats against their only common opponent.

Like Iowa State, injuries have impacted the Creighton lineup. Junior, outside hitter Erica Kostelac hurt her knee and is seemingly done for the season, it’s not clear for sure. Without her though Creighton has one less option. There still is plenty of other talent on the roster. Libero, Brittany Witt was the Big East Libero of the Year and Keeley Davis, the Bluejays leading scorer, was the conference’s Freshman of the Year. Kirsten Bernthal Booth helms the Creighton program; she and her staff were the Big East Coaching Staff of the Year.

Key Players

Sr. 5’8 L 2 Brittany Witt+- 5.09 D/S (27)

Rs. Fr. 6’1 OH 6 Keeley Davis+?- 3.28 K/S, 0.32 SA/S

So. 6’2 OH 7 Jaela Zimmerman+- 3.11 K/S, 2.36 D/S, 0.27 SA/S

Sr. 5’10 S 18 Madelyn Cole+- 11.09 A/S (26), 2, 62 D/S, 0.39 SA/S

Sr. 6’1 MB/RS 19 Megan Ballenger+- 2.13 K/S, .308, 0.98 B/S

Jr. 6’4 MB/RS 21 Naomi Hickman- .298, 0.95 B/S

+ All-Big East Team

? All-Big East Freshman Team

Big Ten Post-Season Honors

Big Ten accolades were announced today with Wisconsin and Penn State taking home some of the top honors. Wisconsin’s Dana Rettke was the conference Player of the Year. Teammate Sydney Hilley was named the Big Ten Setter of the Year. Penn State’s Kendall White took home the Defensive Player of the Year honor. Madi Kubik, of Nebraska, was voted Freshman of the Year. The coaches and media had different picks for Coach of the Year; Penn State’s Russ Rose was his peers pick while the media tabbed Wisconsin’s Kelly Sheffield.

Rettke, Hilley, and White were among nine unanimous first-team selections as was Minnesota’s Regan Pittman; the others are Paige Jones, Michigan; Lauren Stivrins, Nebraska; Kaitlyn Hord and Jonni Parker, Penn State; and Grace Cleveland, Purdue.

CC McGraw and Stephanie Samedy joined Pittman on the First Team for the Gophers. Alexis Hart and Taylor Morgan were named to the Second Team.

Junior, middle blocker Pittman has done a little bit of everything this season for the Gophers as she earned her second First Team All-Big Ten honor. She’s hit .364 overall, seventh in the league, and even elevated her numbers to .384 in league play, fourth-best; she’s been putting away 2.31 kills per set. Defensively she’s been the top blocker in the league averaging 1.43 blocks per set.

Sophomore, libero CC McGraw has anchored the floor defense this season racking up 385 digs, 4.23 digs per set, third-best in the league. She’s also made good on 93% of her service reception attempts while serving up 22 aces of her own.

For the third time, junior, right side hitter, Stephanie Samedy was named to the All-Big Ten list. Samedy led the Gophers with 313 kills, 3.26 per set, 15th best in the Big Ten. Samedy has been key in turning the Gophers into one of the top blocking teams in the country as she’s posted 0.93 blocks per set. In the back row, she’s averaged 2.57 digs per set.

Senior, outside hitter Alexis Hart has been a reliable offensive weapon for the Gophers this season as she makes her return to the top All-Big Ten list after being honored in 2017 and making the Second Team in 2018. Hart posted 3.02 kills per set this season while hitting .268.

Senior, middle blocker Taylor Morgan has rounded out a balanced offense and been an effective blocker as she earned her second Second Team honor this season. Morgan’s hit .350 this season, 9th best in the conference, averaging just over two kills per set. Blocking-wise she’s tallied 1.18 blocks per set, good enough for eighth in the Big Ten. In conference play’s she’s posted 1.31 blocks per set, fourth-best.

Lauren Litzau was Minnesota’s Sportsmanship Honoree.