The Minnesota Gophers volleyball team will open their 26th NCAA Tournament all-time and their 7th consecutive trip Friday night when they host the South Dakota Coyotes at the Pav. Minnesota will look to continue its streak of advancing to the Sweet 16 in every single NCAA Tournament they have played in since 2008. But it will take a win over the Coyotes, and then over wither Iowa State or Stanford to keep that streak alive.
Minnesota did enough this season to end up with the #12 national seed when the NCAA brackets were announced last Sunday. That gives the Gophers one of 16 coveted first and second round hosting assignments and hopefully two more games on the Pav floor in 2021.
Minnesota is led by Two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Stephanie Samedy who led the conference in points and kills per set. She recorded 20 or more kills in 11 matches this season and eclipsed the 30 kill mark three times. Joining her on the Big Ten First Team was libero CC McGraw who was second in the conference in digs. Minnesota obviously will need big weekends from both of them, but also their role players including Jenna Wennas, Airi Miyabe, Katie Myers, and more.
South Dakota advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons after wining the Summit League Tournament and getting the auto bid. They are led by junior Elizabeth Junke from Lakeville who was the Summit League Tournament MVP and led the conference in kills per sit with 3.97 this season. Fellow junior Madison Harms is 14th in the nation in hitting percentage at .412. Their libero Lolo Weideman lead the Summit League with 4.66 digs per set. This will not be an easy first round tilt for the Gophers.
Surprisingly the Gophers and Coyotes will face off for the first time in the program’s history on Friday night. Minnesota and South Dakota had one common opponent this season in St. Thomas who Minnesota swept easily in three sets at the Pav in September, and the Coyotes beat twice in Summit League play in three and four sets.
Minnesota should get a fairly easy win if they play their game and advance to Saturday’s second round.
Assuming Minnesota wins they would face either the Iowa State Cyclones or Stanford Cardinal in the second round on Saturday. Minnesota has played and defeated both teams already this season with the Gopher sweeping the Cyclones 3-0 at the Pav in September, and the Cardinal in Eugene, Oregon at the Pac 12/Big Ten Challenge in September 3-1.
Iowa State went 16-11 and 8-8 in the Big 12 this season. They earned an at-large berth led behind Marika Popovic the Big 12 libero of the Year who recorded 4.65 digs per set.
Stanford went 18-10 and 13-7 in the Pac-12. A traditional power, the Cardinal have taken a small step back after the graduation of one of the best players in college volleyball history in Katherine Plummer. The Cardinal were in three straight national semifinals from 2017-2019 which included a win over the Gophers in 2019. They come in on a roll having won five straight matches and six of their last seven. They have wins over fellow Big Ten powers Penn State and Nebraska this year.
Minnesota is 25-7 all time against Iowa State's including their win in September. The Cyclone’s last win came in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the Gophers are just 2-10 all-time against Stanford with the two wins coming in 2019 and this past fall. This will be the first time the Gophers and Cardinal may face one another in Minneapolis however.
We predict that Minnesota and Stanford will face one another on Saturday and while it will be uncomfortably close, Minnesota will win in 4 or 5 sets and advance to the Sweet 16 once again.