Volleyball Set to Host NCAA First and Second Rounds
Gopher Volleyball is ready for the second season

Nov. 28, 2012

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NCAA Tournament Central

Minnesota begins the second season as the NCAA Tournament starts this weekend. The Golden Gophers are the overall No. 8 seed and marks the fourth time in five years the Gophers will host the First and Second Rounds. Minnesota will face Liberty (25-7, 12-2 in the Big South) on Friday, Nov. 30 at 6:30 p.m. Prior to the Gopher/Liberty match will be the Creighton (28-3) and Marquette (27-6) contest, at 4:30 p.m. The winners of the first two matches will face each other on Dec. 1, 6 p.m., for the NCAA Second Round, also at the Sports Pavilion. It will be the first meeting between Liberty and the Gophers. Minnesota is 4-0 against Creighton all-time and 7-0 against Marquette.

All matches in the Minneapolis First and Second Round site will have video available for free through Gopher All-Access as well as live in-game statistics. Gopher matches will also feature an in-game chat on gophersports.com.

Minnesota is one of four Big Ten teams selected to the Purdue Regional, held in West Lafayette, Ind. Penn State, the overall No. 1 seed, as well as the Boilermakers and Ohio State are in the same region. Along with the Big Ten teams, also included in the West Lafayette Regional is No. 9 seed Florida State and No. 16 seed Kentucky. Winners out of the First and Second Round advance to the NCAA Regional, Dec. 7-8. The regional winners will advance to the semifinals and final hosted by the University of Louisville and the Louisville Sports Commission at the KFC Yumi Center in Louisville, Ky., December 13 and 15.

Minnesota is 16-1 in 17 first round NCAA Tournament matches its participated in. Minnesota defeated Summit League champion North Dakota State last year at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers were 13-1 in first round matches under former head coach Mike Hebert. Before Hebert, Minnesota won First Round home matches against Colorado (1989) and Ball State (1993). Minnesota lost in the first round for the first time in school history to Sacramento State in 2007. Since then, the Golden Gophers defeated North Dakota State in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and Louisville in 2009.

The 2012 berth marks the 14th-straight season Minnesota volleyball has made it to the NCAA Tournament and 18th overall in school history. Minnesota has made it to three Final Fours (2003, 2004, 2009) and was the national runner-up in 2004. Last year, the Gophers were seeded 13th overall and made it to the Sweet 16 after they defeated North Dakota State in the First Round and a come-from-behind five-set win over Washington at the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota and Nebraska finished in the tie for second place within the Big Ten standings. Both finished the regular conference season with a 15-5 league mark. Minnesota enters the NCAA Tournament with a 24-7 overall record, while Nebraska is 23-6. The last time Minnesota finished second in the Big Ten was 2010 under Mike Hebert.

The Big Ten Conference has announced that senior opposite hitter Katherine Harms (Albertville, Minn) and junior middle blocker Tori Dixon were named unanimous All-Big Ten honorees. Junior outside hitter and team captain Ashley Wittman (Shakopee, Minn.) was an honorable mention, while Daly Santana (Corozal, Puerto Rico) was a unanimous selection on the Freshman All-Big Ten team. It marks the first-ever conference award for Harms, while Dixon was an All-Big Ten selection last year and an honorable mention as a freshman. Also named Minnesota's Sportsmanship honoree was senior Mia Tabberson for the third-straight year.

In the 64-field, Minnesota has faced 11 teams that qualified for the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Along with the six other teams from the Big Ten (Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue) the Gophers had a tough non-conference schedule as well. LIU Brooklyn won the Northeast Conference title, Dayton won the Atlantic 10 championship and Tulsa won the Conference USA crown. Kansas State received an at-large bid, while Texas was the regular season winner of the Big 12. Against these teams, Minnesota held a 10-7 mark, including a 4-2 record against the nonconference opponents (losses to Texas and Kansas State).

Liberty earned its seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big South Volleyball Championship for the second year in a row, as it defeated Coastal Carolina in the title game, Nov. 18. Liberty has won the conference tournament in four out of the last six seasons and seven times overall in program history. The Lady Flames enter the NCAA tournament with a 10-match win streak and a 25-7 overall record. Junior setter Jade Craycraft was named the Big South Tournament MVP  when she averaged 10.60 assists per set and holds a 9.65 per set mark on the season. Red-shirt freshman Caroline Douglas leads the Lady Flames with 442 kills and averages 3.68 kills per set. Senior middle blocker Loren Thomas has 269 kills for a 2.24 set average, while junior OH Lillie Happel averages 2.44 kps. Sophomore Gabrielle Shipe has a team-high 499 kills, while Happel ranks second with 273. Lindsey Gosh has 50 aces this season.

Marquette earned an at-large bid and enters the NCAA Tournament with a 27-6 overall record and set a school record for wins in a season. The 2012 tournament marks the second-straight for the Golden Eagles, their first in program history. The Golden Eagles lost to eventual Big East champion Louisville, who received a No. 10 seed. Marquette landed three on the All-Big East First Team in senior right-side Holly Mertens, senior middle blocker Danielle Carlson and  junior setter Elizabeth Koberstein. Mertens leads the Eagle attack  with 406 kills and 3.33 kills per set. Carlson hits a team-best .400 and averages 2.95 kps. She ranks 10th nationally in hitting percentage. Koberstein has 103 kills and 1414 assists to average 11.59, which ranks 18th nationally.  

Creighton enters the tournament with its best record in program history at 28-3. Winning both the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and conference championship, after the Jays had a 17-1 conference record. Ranked in the AVCA poll, the Jays are making its second trek to the NCAA Tournament, with the first coming in 2010 when they defeated Iowa State in five sets at the Sports Pavilion and lost to the Gophers in the Second Round. Megan Bober leads the Creighton offense as she was named the MVC Tournament and Player of the Year. She averages 9.62 assists per set, 3.00 digs, 1.90 kills and 0.99 blocks per set. Kelli Browning and Melanie Jereb were also first-team MVC. Browning holds the team's best hitting percentage at .362 and was the Defensive Player of the Year with 1.67 blocks per set. Jereb averaged 2.49 kills and 2.74 digs per set in the regular season.

Setter Alexandra Palmer has helped out the Gopher hitters to a .302 team hitting percentage. She ranks eighth in the conference in assists, playing in 110 sets and averages 9.85 assists per set. In conference games alone, Palmer jumped to No. 2 in assists at 11.30 assists per set. On the season, Minnesota has now hit over .300 in 16 matches this season and six over .400. Along with her set up ability, Palmer has 194 digs and 13 aces.

Minnesota is 65-9 in the last four seasons at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers fell for the first time in 2012 at home against Penn State two weeks ago and in 17 home matches last season were 10-5 in 2011. The Golden Gophers went 16-2 in 2010 on their home court and 14-1 in 2009 with their only loss coming to National Champion Penn State. In 2008, Minnesota lost to Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and North Carolina in the Gopher Invitational.




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