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Minnesota Volleyball: NCAA Tournament Rounds 1-2 Preview

The Gophers will hope to seen Hugh McCutcheon out with two last wins at The Pav

Christopher Mitchell—

The Minnesota Gophers will open up play in the 27th NCAA Tournament in the school’s history Friday night when they host the First and Second Rounds at Maturi Pavillion. The Gophers are the #8 overall national seed and the #2 seed in the Texas region. Minnesota opens up their tournament at 7 PM Friday night against SE Louisiana, and assuming they win will advance to play the winner of Florida State and Northern Iowa at 7 Pm Saturday night for a trip to the Round of 16.

The Gophers closed out the regular season in a huge wain with road wins at top-10 opponents Ohio State and Nebraska. Those wins most likely assured the Gophers of their hosting honors this weekend.

Minnesota also cleaned up when the Big Ten Volleyball Awards were announced on Wednesday. Redshirt sophomore Taylor Landfair was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. Bouncing back from two partial injury raddled seasons, Landfair exploded this season. She lead the conference and ranked in the top-20 nationally in both points (4.99) and kills (4.43) per set. She posted 26 10+ kill matches, including 19 15+ kill matches and five 20+ kill matches. She makes it three years in a row that a Gopher has won the Big Ten POTY after Stephanie Samedy won the last two seasons. She is the sixth Gopher in the last eight seasons to take home the award.

She was joined on the All-Big Ten First Team with setter Melani Shaffmaster and freshman middle blocker Carter Booth. Shaffmaster turned in a complete effort in 2022 as not only did she post 10.48 assists per set, a figure that ranked second in the Big Ten and 36th nationally., but she finished first in the Big Ten in double-doubles with 14 matches with 10+ assists and 10+ digs, registered a team-best 27 service aces while ranking second on Minnesota with 2.75 digs per set, and her 0.80 blocks per set ranks fifth on the team and first among non-middle blockers. Booth lead the team and ranked sixth in the conference in blocks per set (1.41). She played in 26 games, posting 2.78 points and 2.00 kills per set while hitting a scorching .379. Her .379 hitting percentage ranks in the top-15 all-time for a single-season for a Minnesota player. She posted 121 blocks, including 13 solo blocks. She’s just the fourth Gophers true freshmen in the past 16 years to post 100 blocks in her rookie season.

Libero CC McGraw was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team, and Booth was joined by fellow freshman McKenna Wucherer on the All-Freshman Team.

The Gophers will take those players amongst others into the tenth NCAA Tournament under Hugh McCutcheon. Minnesota is a perfect 17-0 in first and second round matches under McCutcheon with all of those matches coming at the Pav except for the Spring of 2021 Tournament in the bubble in Omaha. The Gophers are 16-1 all-time at home in the NCAA Tournament with just a 2018 loss in the Round of 16 to Oregon as the blemish. If the Gophers can’t advance through the weekend it would be historic as the Gophers last did not advance to the Sweet 16 in a NCAA Tournament for which they qualified in 2008.

Minnesota played an insanely tough schedule this season to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers went 8-7 against ranked opponents this year and all eight non-conference opponents made the field of 64 this season. Add in five other Big Ten schools and the Gophers played teams that made the NCAA field in 16 of their 28 matches this season.

Minnesota opens up their tournament against SE Louisiana. The Lions were the Southland Conference Champions and ended the season with a 25-7 record on the season. However, the Lions did not play a single team on their schedule that qualified for the NCAA field. It will be the Lions’ first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. They are led by Kailin Newsome, who tallied 4.17 kills per set this season. Ansley Tullis paces the backcourt with 3.93 digs per set while Hannah Brewer adds 0.99 blocks per set. They have never faced the Gophers.

The other two teams who will face off in the Pav include regional #7 seed Florida State Seminoles and the Northern Iowa Panthers. The Seminoles earned at at large bid after going 19-10 in the regular season and finishing in fifth place in the ACC. FSU is 18-23 all time in the NCAA Tournament and most recently advanced to the second round a season ago. The Seminoles are 3-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament play in Minneapolis. The Seminoles beat Kentucky in the 2009 NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis before falling to Minnesota. In 2011, the Seminoles took down Purdue and Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight to punch a ticket to the program’s first and only Final Four. The only common opponent between the Seminoles and Gophers is Florida who swept FSU 3-0 in September and the Gophers defeated 3-1 at the Pav. Minnesota is 11-6 all-time against the Seminoles with their last meeting in 2019 ending in a 3-0 win for FSU.

Audrey Koenig leads the Seminoles with 2.93 kills per set, but FSU has three other players all averaging more than 2 kills per set. Emery Dupes leads FSU with 3.02 digs per set, and Emily Ryan averages 1.08 blocks per set.

Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley automatic bid going 26-7 on the season. They are hot at the right time winning 20 of their last 21 matches including a 3-2 win over Drake in the MVC Championship game. UNI is playing in their 24th NCAA Tournament and are 15-23 all-time. Minnesota is 20-6 all-time against the Panthers with the last meeting between the schools coming in 2017 with Minnesota winning 3-1 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at The Pav. The only common opponent between the schools this season is Iowa who the Panthers lost to in a 3-0 sweep and who the Gophers easily swept 3-0 twice this season. Emily Holterhaus leads the team with 3.2 kills per set, Sydney Peterson leads the Panthers with 4.28 digs per set, and Carly Spies leads the team with 1.09 blocks per set.

All three matches this weekend from The Pav will stream live on ESPN+. Florida State and Northern Iowa will begin at 4:30 PM while the Gophers and SE Louisiana will begin at 7 PM HERE. The second round match between the winners will begin at 7 PM Saturday night. All of Minnesota’s matches can be heard on 96.7 FM or via the I Heart Radio App as well.

The winner of the Minneapolis quadrant will head to Austin, Texas for the Rounds of 16 and 8 next weekend barring an epic upset. Texas is the #1 overall seed and the #1 seed in the regional. They eliminated Fairleigh Dickenson in the first round Thursday night and will host Georgia Friday night in the second round.