The Minnesota Gophers volleyball team took care of business last weekend at home against South Dakota and Stanford and reached the NCAA Volleyball Tournament Sweet 16 for the seventh consecutive season. Their reward? A rematch against #5 Baylor in Thursday’s Regional Semifinal and if they were to win, a likely third match of the season against rival #4 Wisconsin on their home court for a trip to the Final Four. Just a simple little road there.
Minnesota will have their hands full against Baylor. The Bears defeated Minnesota 3-1 in the opening match of the season for both teams, ironically on the exact same court the two teams will face off on on Thursday afternoon. Stephanie Samedy led the way for Minnesota in that match with 21 kills and 18 digs, but was nearly matched by Baylor All-American and 2019 National Player of the Year Yossiana Pressley who had 19 kills and 13 digs of her own.
Baylor is a deep team. Not only did they return Pressley, but they have three other previous All-Americans on their roster including Hannah Sedwick, Lauren Harrison and Kentucky transfer Avery Skinner. Sedwick was named the Big 12’s Setter of the Year and was joined on the Big 12’s First Team by Pressley and Skinner.
One unheralded player for Baylor who killed Minnesota the first time these two teams matched up was Marieke van der Mark who hit .407 and recorded 14 kills in the match. The 6’6 opposite hitter will need to try and be contained by Minnesota’s middle blockers in Katie Myers and Ellie Husemann better than they did in August.
Minnesota will need the usual huge game from Samedy, but they really will need sophomore Jenna Wennas to have a massive match. The outside hitter has really blossomed this season, but this will be the biggest match of her career and for Minnesota to advance she will need to match Samedy kill for kill.
Minnesota will appear to get one huge boost in the return of libero CC McGraw. CC did not play in either match last weekend when she was held out for what was termed “medical reasons”. However she was present in practice photos the U put out on social media on Wednesday and is expected to return to action for the Gophers on Thursday. Rachel Kilkelly stepped in masterfully for the Gophers last weekend, but Minnesota is at their best when McGraw plays libero and Kilkelly can move back to her typical defensive specialist position. With the power that Baylor has in their front line, the more Gophers who can make incredible defensive plays on the court, the better.
Under Hugh McCutcheon the Gophers are 4-4 all time in the round of 16. In recent years they have lost matches they probably should not have including to Pittsburgh last spring, and to Oregon in 2018. If they want to advance one more round, they probably need to win one Thursday afternoon that they probably on paper should not. Hopefully the rest of the Minnesota team can give Stephanie Samedy at least one more match in her collegiate career.
The winner of Minnesota/Baylor will advance to play the winner of #13 UCLA vs #4 Wisconsin at 7 PM on Saturday night for a trip to the Final Four. Hopefully we can talk one more time about Gophers vs Badgers with it all on the line.
HOW TO WATCH:
#12 Minnesota Gophers vs #5 Baylor Bears
Where: UW Fieldhouse, Madison, Wisconsin
When: 2:00 PM
Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: 96.7 FM KFAN +/ IHeartRadio