The Minnesota volleyball team (18-12) will head to Stanford, Calif. for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Nov. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 1. Minnesota will face Sacramento State (28-7) out of the Big Sky on Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. (CT).
Host Stanford (27-2), out of the Pac-10, will face Santa Clara (19-11) from the West Coast Conference in the first round on the other side of the bracket on Nov. 30 at 9:30 p.m. (CT). The winners of the two first round matches will play on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 10 p.m. (CT).
Stanford enters the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, and is also the top seed in the region. UCLA is the No. 2 seed (No. 8 overall) in the region, Kansas State is No. 3 (No. 9 overall) and Cal Poly is No. 4 (No. 16 overall). Minnesota is unseeded for the first time since 2005, and just the third time since 1998.
This year’s first and second rounds offer a little familiarity to all of the teams involved. The Golden Gophers first-round matchup against Sacramento State is a rematch from first round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles. In that match, Minnesota defeated the Hornets in three games, and then upset No. 14 USC in the second round to advance to the NCAA Regionals.
“I remember that 1999 trip to the NCAA Tournament fondly,” said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. “To defeat Sacramento State and then upset USC to get to the regionals was extremely exciting for our program. That was a great weekend of NCAA Tournament action for us. This regional, is filled with quality programs. We face a Sacramento State program that has a great tradition, and is a quality program. They will also have extra incentive to play hard for Debby (Colberg) who is retiring at the end of the year. The two teams on the other side of the bracket, Stanford and Sacramento State, have great track records as well. We played Stanford earlier this year, and we know what a great team they are. I also have a lot of respect for Santa Clara, and the consistent success they have had. These four teams should provide and exciting weekend of volleyball.”
Last year, Stanford also hosted Santa Clara and Sacramento State in its bracket. In 2005, the Broncos upset the Cardinal and made a run to the Final Four. In 2006, Stanford defeated Sacramento State in the first round. Along with facing the Cardinal earlier in the year, Minnesota faced Stanford in the National Championship in 2004. The Golden Gophers also faced Santa Clara in the regular-season in 2002.
This marks the fourth straight year the Golden Gophers have traveled for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In 2004, Minnesota received a No. 1 regional seed, but traveled to New Haven, Conn. to face Long Island and Yale. The Golden Gophers traveled to Knoxville, Tenn. in 2005 where they faced Winthrop and host Tennessee in the second round. Last year, Minnesota traveled to Albany, N.Y. where it faced Siena and St. John’s
Minnesota finished the 2007 regular season 18-12, and tied for third place in the Big Ten at 11-9. The Golden Gophers have now finished third place or higher in the Big Ten eight times in the past nine years.
“I am really proud of our team for battling back from a tough month of October,” said Hebert. “It is really tough to shift gears and make changes to get better when you are on a long losing streak in the middle of a season. This group did that, and closed out the season winning six of their final eight matches. I think they showed a lot of resiliency this year, and they are looking forward to getting started in the NCAA Tournament.”
Six Big Ten teams made the field of 64, including the Golden Gophers. Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Two Big Ten teams received top 16 seeds. Penn State was the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, while Wisconsin was No. 7. Both teams will host first and second round matches, and regional matches at their home facilities.
Overall, Minnesota will be making its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, and its 11th under current head coach Mike Hebert. The Golden Gophers have advanced to the “Sweet Sixteen” in six of the last eight seasons and to the Regional Finals in three of the last four, including back-to-back Final Fours in 2003 and 2004. Minnesota also made an appearance in the National Championship match in 2004.
Minnesota is 25-12 in 37 NCAA Tournament matches. The Golden Gophers are 15-5 the last five seasons in NCAA Tournament play.
All of Minnesota’s postseason matches can be heard on gophersports.com.