The Minnesota volleyball team (18-11) will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament at the Sports Pavilion, Dec. 2-3. Minnesota will face North Dakota State (26-8) on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Prior to the Gopher/Bison match will be Western Michigan (24-8) and Washington (23-7), at 4:30 p.m. The winners of the first two matches will face each other on Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m., also at the Sports Pavilion. This marks the third time in four years that the Gophers will host the first and second rounds.
Fans can follow the Gophers a variety of ways through the first and second rounds. Gophersports.com will provide free webcast (via BTN.com) as well as live game tracker. Minnesota will also have free audio for its match.
The University of Minnesota has a chance to be home for four tournament matches as it hosts the NCAA Regionals as well. The NCAA has announced the start times for Minnesota's regionals. On Friday, Dec. 9, the NCAA Regional Semifinals will be held a 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., both on ESPN 3. On Saturday, Dec. 10, the Regional Final will be held at 8:30 p.m. and will be shown on ESPN U. Tickets are now on sale for the NCAA Regional. All session reserved chair back is $25. all session adult general admission is $20, while all session student/youth/senior general admission is $15. Single session tickets will go on sale the week of the tournament. Fans can purchase tickets through mygophersports.com or by calling the Gopher ticket office at 1-800 UGOPHER or 612-624-8080.
The Gophers are the No. 13 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will hope to make it to their own regional as Minnesota hosts the NCAA Semifinals and NCAA Regional Final on Dec. 9-10. Iowa State holds the No. 4 overall seed, while Purdue is seeded fifth, also in the Minneapolis Region. The regional winners will advance to the semifinals and final hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio, and San Antonio Sports at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on December 15 and 17.
Minnesota is 15-1 in 16 first round NCAA Tournament matches. The Gophers were 13-1 in first round matches under former head coach Mike Hebert. Before Hebert, Minnesota won home first round 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, Louisville in 2009 and NDSU last year at the Sports Pavilion.
The 2011 berth marks the 13th-straight season Minnesota volleyball has made it to the NCAA Tournament and 17th 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 made it to the NCAA Regional Semifinal (Seattle) where they lost to California in three sets.
North Dakota State is no stranger to Minnesota or the Sports Pavilion in tournament action. The last two times NDSU has visited the Sports Pavilion came in 2008 and last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota earned a 3-0 win over the Bison in both matches. Prior to the two tournament appearances the Gophers and Bison met up in the Diet Coke Classic in 2005 as Minnesota also won, 3-0. The Gophers have lost once to the Bison, dating back to 1984 and are 10-1 all-time against NDSU.
The 2011 NCAA Tournament marks the first time Western Michigan and Washington have made the trek to Minneapolis. Minnesota last faced Washington at the Sun Dome at the Tampa Twice Tournament (9/11/09) and fell to the then-No. 3 Huskies in three sets. All-time, the Gophers are 1-2 against Washington. Their only win against Washington in the NCAA Regional Final to advance to the program's first Final Four in 2003.
If the Gophers and Western Michigan both advance out of the first round it would be the first time in 23 years the two teams would face each other. In fact, no one on the current Gopher roster was born the last time the two teams met on Nov. 18, 1988. Minnesota and WMU have only faced each other twice, both at WMU in 1980 and 1988, going 1-1.
The Big Ten Conference has the most of any league to make the tournament, marking eight this season. Making it to the big dance is Nebraska (Big Ten Champions and the No. 2 overall seed), Illinois (overall No. 3), Purdue (overall No. 5), Penn State (No. 8), Minnesota (13), Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. The Big 12 and the Pac 12 had the second-most in the tournament with seven. Along with Nebraska and Illinois gaining the top seed in its regional, Iowa State received the No. 4 overall seed, while Texas was the overall No. 1.
Just as the Big Ten Conference coaches predicted, Minnesota finished fifth in the conference standings with an 11-9 record. The Gophers finished behind Big Ten Champion Nebraska (17-3), Purdue (16-4), Illinois (16-4) and Penn State (16-4). During the Big Ten season, the Gophers were 6-4 at home and 5-5 on the road.
Sophomore standouts Ashley Wittman and Tori Dixon were both named All-Big Ten, announced Tuesday Nov. 29 by the Big Ten Conference office. It is Wittman's first honor, while Dixon was named honorable mention last season. Wittman, one of seven unanimous players, ranked second in the Big Ten in kills (506 averaging 4.52 per set), and points (554.5), trailing only the Big Ten Player of the Year, Purdue's Ariel Turner. A six-rotation player, Wittman saw action in all 112 sets and had 506 kills and 316 digs, which ranked third on the team as her 54 blocks was third. Named a Preseason All-Big Ten, Wittman was named a two-time Big Ten Player of the Week. Over the course of the tournaments, Wittman was a three-time All-Tournament selection, including the Most Valuable Player for the Northern Iowa Tournament and the Marquette Challenge. Following the Penn State and Ohio State weekend, Wittman achieved weekly conference honors when she had 52 kills, including a career-high 31 against Penn State. Also tabbed as a Preseason All-Big Ten, Dixon ranks third in the conference in hitting percentage when she hit .361 during the regular season. Leading the team in aces (35), Dixon ranks sixth in the Big Ten. She also ranks second on the team in kills (315), kills per set (2.81), points (400.5) and blocks (99). To open her sophomore season, Dixon hit .410 and had a career-high 22 kills against Southern Cal. In the Texas matches, Dixon had 21 kills and eight aces and hit over .444 in both matches, while posting a career-best .667 against Illinois (10/29) and Wisconsin (11/23). An all-tournament selection at Northern Iowa, she had seven blocks and nine kills. She also extended a streak of seven years-straight years a Gopher middle blocker has received First-Team All-Big Ten honors. Dixon has combined with Lauren Gibbemeyer (2008-10), Jessy Jones (2007) and Meredith Nelson (2005-06) to put together that string of first-team honors. Going back to 1999, Minnesota has had a middle blocker named to the first team in 10 of the last 13 seasons.
North Dakota State enters the match with a 26-8 overall and has won 10 straight and 12 of its last 13 matches. NDSU qualified for its second straight NCAA tournament third in four years by winning the Summit League tournament championship Nov. 19 against Oral Roberts in Fort Wayne, Ind. The 2011 tournament marks NDSU's 23rd NCAA tournament appearance in program history. The Bison qualified for the Division II playoffs 20 times from 1982 to 2003, missing only in 1985 and 1994. NDSU has qualified for the Division I tournament in three out of six seasons since 2006. Paving the way for the Bison is Brynn Joki, who leads the team with 385 kills in 120 sets played as she averages 3.21 kills per set. Chrissy Knuth ranks second in kills (301), while Megan Lambertson (298) is second in kps (2.81). Andrea Henning leads the team with 530 kills as Jennifer Lopez has 1306 assists.
The Gophers earned a win over NDSU on Dec. 3, 2010, which helped them advance to the second round. Minnesota won in three, 25-21, 25-21, 25-12 and advanced to face Creighton last year. The Gophers were led by Ashley Wittman who had 14 kills and 16 digs for her 17th double double of the season. Former Gopher Lauren Gibbemeyer hit .455 (11-1-22) with 11 kills and four blocks. Mia Tabberson finished with a career-best six kills, 38 assists and 10 digs on the night. Tori Dixon also finished with eight kills, four digs and two blocks on the night. Jessica Granquist had a match-high 17 digs. The Gophers outhit the Bison .306 (50-16-111) to .122 (30-16-115), and had 50 kills to NDSU's 30. Minnesota also had 65 digs to 40 for the Bison, but North Dakota State outblocked the Gophers 7.0-to-5.0. North Dakota State was led by Brynn Joki who had 10 kills and 12 digs. Lambertson finished with six kills and a match-high five blocks. Setter Jennifer Lopez had 26 assists and five digs, while Lauren McLaughlin finished with nine digs.