The Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the Liberty Lady Flames, 25-21, 25-10, 34-32, tonight in the First Round of the 2012 NCAA Volleyball Championship Tournament at the Sports Pavilion. Three Golden Gophers (25-7) notched double-doubles to help the Gophers advance to tomorrow night's Second Round.
Three Gophers finished with double-doubles on the night. Daly Santana played for 10 kills and 13 digs. Ashley Wittman tallied 11 kills and 10 digs. Katherine Harms led the team with 12 kills and 12 digs while also adding three service aces to the team's total of eight. Tori Dixon finished with 10 kills and also added five blocks at the net.
Minnesota took a 1-0 lead on a 25-21 first set win. The competition opened with a tight battle. Neither team was able to break away until midway through the set. With the score tied at 13, Liberty ran away with a three-point run when Caroline Douglas sandwiched a pair of kills around a block from Kendle Rollins and Melissa Racz. Minnesota answered with a five-point run paced by Morgan Bohl at the service line and Harms at the net. Harms connected for a bullet to put the Gophers up 16-15 and extended their lead to 18-15 with another. The Lady Flames were able to tighten the gap to two at 18-16, but that is as close as they would get as the Gophers held at least a three-point lead all the way to the finish. Wittman notched her third kill of the night to close out the set, 25-21.
The Gophers were able to dominate the Lady Flames in the second set, 25-10. An early kill from Santana paired with three consecutive blocks from Dixon gave Minnesota a 4-0 lead in the second set. Multiple attack errors by the Lady Flames pushed the Gopher lead to six at 7-1. At the 8-3 mark, the Maroon and Gold began a 7-0 streak. As Dixon was serving, the Gopher front line was able to spread the attack. Alexandra Palmer and Dana Knudsen each tallied one kill in the run, while Wittman put away three. Palmer found Harms for her eighth kill to make it 21-8. Liberty's Jade Craycraft and Racz scored back-to-back points to climb back to 23-10 but the Gophers stopped the momentum. Dixon launched a shot and then combined with Wittman for a block to close out the set.
Teams saw a super-sized set in the third in which there were 17 tie scores, eight lead changes, and 10 match points en route to a Minnesota 34-32 set win. The Gophers started strong with a 9-3 lead on a kill by Wittman but the Lady Flames fought back to tie the score at 13 after forcing Minnesota to an attack error. At 17-17, Liberty scored four straight to take the lead but Minnesota replied, going on a 5-0 run for a 21-20 score. The two teams traded points for the remainder of the match. At 23-24, the Lady Flames had a chance to take the win but a ball handling error gave the Gophers a second wind. A free ball gave the Gophers the opportunity to tie it again and they did. Palmer made a quick set to Dixon in the middle for a 28-28 score. A miscommunication on Liberty's side allowed the sixth match point, but a kill from Thomas kept the match alive once again. Dixon served an ace to set up match point for the ninth time but Liberty was again able to make the clutch play to stay in action. Dixon later capitalized on a well-placed setup to win back control of the serve. Harms followed with a bullet to end the match, 34-32.
Minnesota will face Creighton in the second round tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. The BlueJays defeated the Marquette Golden Eagles in three earlier in the night. For details, click here.