Here we are. After 30-some games this season it all comes down to a match between two very familiar foes for a berth in the NCAA Volleyball Final Four. Minnesota Gophers vs Wisconsin Badgers. Gold vs Red. Let’s get it on!
Minnesota got here by upsetting #5 seed Baylor in the Sweet 16 in a come from behind 3-2 win. They did it with star 5th year senior Stephanie Samedy being rendered rather ineffective for a good chunk of the match as well. That left it to the Gophers other outside hitters in Airi Miyabe and Jenna Wenass to pick up the slack, and that they did. Add in some key service play by middle blocker Katie Myers and some huge blocks in the middle by Ellie Huseman and Minnesota did just enough to get past the Bears. But even that level of enough won’t get the job done against Wisconsin. The Badgers are on a tear, and it will be up to Minnesota to play their best match of the season Saturday night if they want to disrupt the crowing that Wisconsin fans feel is coming in Madison.
The Badgers won their third consecutive Big Ten regular season championship this season and have breezed through the NCAA Tournament thus far eliminating Colgate, Florida Gulf Coast, and UCLA without dropping a set. In fact only Florida Gulf Coast is the only team in that stretch to even get to 20 points in a set. The Badgers have been dominant. They have made it to the last two Final Fours losing the NCAA Championship game to Stanford in 2019. They think this is their year to finally break through and win a title. Can Minnesota be the team to ruin those plans/
The Badgers and Gophers have met twice this season. Wisconsin dominantly swept the Gophers on October 1st in Madison 25-17, 25-21, and 25-17. Minnesota never had a chance. The Gophers nearly pulled off a huge upset in the return game at the Pav in November, but it was nearly an opposite copy of the Gophers win over Baylor. The Gophers earned first and third set wins, but when the proof was in the pudding Wisconsin battled back to first earn a 28026 set four win where the Gophers had multiple chances to win the match, and then take the back breaking 15-12 fifth set. The Gophers know they can play with the Badgers, but with so much on the line for both teams, who will be mentally tough enough to take home the prize.
Wisconsin has several dominant players, but the one that has historicially caused the most trouble for Minnesota is probably their best in middle blocker Dana Rettke. The fifth year senior will next week be the first ever five-time First Team All-American and at 6’9 she towers over everyone on the Gopher roster. Rettke has hit at an amazing .445 percentage for the season. But the Badgers do have more than just her if the Gophers can find some way to neutralize her attacks. Devyn Robinson, Grace Loberg and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Julia Orzol all have the ability to take over a game if need be. Add in one of the best setters in the nation in Sydney Hilley and a star defensive specialist in Lauren Barnes and its no surprise why Wisconsin is so good.
Hugh McCutcheon needs to watch the Purdue/Wisconsin game tape on repeat and figure out how the Boilermakers can play against the Badgers. Wisconsin lost three matches this season and two were against Purdue. Now the Boilermakers are also very good—they will play for a trip to the Final Four Saturday as well against Pittsburgh, but they had to do something to dominate the Badgers 3-1 twice. Figure out what that is, and Minnesota has a chance Saturday night. But all the Badgers to get their rapid home crowd into the match early, and it could be a quick night for the Gophers.
This will be the first time that these two programs have ever met in the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully we will get an epic match equal to the rivalry. But as always the most important thing to remember is....
BETTER DEAD THAN RED!!!
HOW TO WATCH:
#12 Minnesota @ #4 Wisconsin-NCAA Quarterfinal
Where: UW Fieldhouse, Madison, Wisconsin
When: 7 PM Saturday
Radio: 96.7 KFAN+/ IHeart Radio App