Gophers Prepare for the NCAA Regionals in West Lafayette

Go Gophers!
Katherine Harms was named All-Region this week

Go Gophers!
Katherine Harms was named All-Region this week
Go Gophers!
Logo   Minnesota vs. Purdue / NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Friday, Dec. 7 Minnesota at Purdue | 6 p.m.
Location West Lafayette, Ind.
Live Video ESPN3
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Game Notes Minnesota | Purdue
Season Statistics Minnesota | Purdue
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Dec. 5, 2012

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With two wins last weekend, Minnesota advanced to the NCAA West Lafayette Regional, hosted by Purdue University. The Golden Gophers will face the Boilermakers (23-10) in Mackey Arena, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. CT. Prior to the Gopher/Boilermaker match will be the No. 1 seed Penn State (28-3) and No. 16 seed Kentucky (22-10) contest, at 4 p.m. CT. The winner of each match will compete for the NCAA Regional Final on Dec. 8, 3 p.m. (CT), and a trip to the NCAA Final Four.

Both of the Regional Semifinals will be on ESPN3, while the Regional Final will be televised live on ESPNU. Gopher matches will also feature an in-game chat on gophersports.com.

Of the 16 teams that advanced, six hail from the Big Ten Conference and three in the Purdue Regional. Also making it to the Sweet 16 was Nebraska (Omaha Region), Michigan and Michigan State (California Region). The regional winners will advance to the National 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 36-17 all-time in the NCAA Tournament dating back to 1989 and 31-13 since 1999. Minnesota is making its  fourth-straight appearance in the Sweet 16 and 10th in school history. The Gophers advanced to this year's 16 with a First-Round win over Liberty and a Second-Round win over Creighton. Minnesota is also 7-7 all-time in the NCAA Regional Semifinals and Finals.  

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. The Gophers fell in the NCAA Regional Semifinal to Iowa State last season.

Junior middle blocker Tori Dixon and senior opposite hitter Katherine Harms were both named to the Mideast All-Region team, announced by the America Volleyball Coaches Association on Tuesday, Dec. 4. The all-region honors follow All-Big Ten selections for the duo, announced prior to the NCAA post season. The Dixon and Harms selections mark the 15th-straight year the Gophers have had an all-region honoree. Its the second-straight honor for Dixon and the first for Harms.

The Big Ten Conference 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.

The Golden Gophers are 43-28 all time against Purdue, dating back to 1975. Minnesota holds an all-time record of 9-37 against the Nittany Lions and just a narrow 3-2 lead against Kentucky. Against the Wildcats, the last meeting between the two teams was 1995.

In the 64-field, Minnesota faced 11 teams in the regular season 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).

Minnesota earned a spot in the Sweet 16 with wins over Liberty and Creighton last weekend in Minneapolis. The Gophers defeated the Lady Flames, 25-21, 25-10 and 34-32 to advance to the Second Round. The 34-32 mark was the longest set in a NCAA Division I match since the 25-point rally scoring format in 2008. Three Gophers finished with double-doubles nights. Daly Santana played for 10 kills and 13 digs, while Ashley Wittman tallied 11 kills and 10 digs. Katherine Harms led the team with 12 kills and 12 digs and added three aces to the team's total of eight. Tori Dixon finished with 10 kills and contributed five blocks. After falling in the first set, 25-20 to the Bluejays, Minnesota came back and won the next three for a 3-1 win over Creighton. Five Gophers finished with double-digit kills, Ashley Wittman led the way with a match-high 17 kills and had 12 digs. Katherine Harms finished with 14 kills and Dana Knudsen tied a season-high 11 kills. Daly Santana and Tori Dixon also chipped in 11. Dixon also reached the 1,000 kill mark in the fourth set. As a team, Minnesota hit .314 to Creighton's .233 collective and held a narrow 47-44 mark in digs. The Jays held the 13.0-9.0 edge in blocks.

Minnesota and Purdue faced each other just once this season, in the Sports Pavilion confines. Minnesota, ranked No. 10, defeated then-ranked No. 17 Purdue, 25-21, 25-18, 16-25, 25-17. The Gophers had four individuals with double digit kills. Katherine Harms had a double double with 15 kills and 10 digs, while Ashley Wittman had 11 kills and 11 digs. Middle blockers Dana Knudsen and Tori Dixon each had 10 kills, while Daly Santana had a match-high 18 digs and nine kills. Alexandra Palmer had a match-high 43 assists. The Gophers also had five service aces, including three from Dixon in the fourth and deciding set.

Purdue enters the weekend with a 23-10 overall record and finished fifth in the Big Ten with a 12-8 conference mark. After upsetting No. 9 seed Florida State in five sets (25-20, 21-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-11), Purdue is making its sixth Sweet 16 appearance in the last eight years. Purdue has hit .248 as a team this year, and has held its opponent to just a .191 hitting percentage. The Boilermakers ranked fourth in the Big Ten in blocks (2.36 per set) and fifth in digs (14.90 per set). Purdue's offensive driving force is arguably Ariel Turner. In 120 sets, the unanimous All-Big Ten outside hitter averages 4.42 kills per set and has 530 kills in 1546 swings. Catherine Rebarchak holds the team's second-best kills per set mark at 2.20. Kaisley Fisher and Anna Drewry average 1.07 and 1.02 blocks per sets, while Rachel Davis averages 9.36 assists per set. Libero Carly Cramer was an All-Big Ten honorable mention as she averages 4.18 digs per set.

No. 1 seed Penn State enters the NCAA Regional with just two losses on the year (vs. Oregon State and at Nebraska) for a 31-2 overall record and a 19-1 mark against Big Ten Conference opponents. PSU is riding a 10-match win streak, including a three-match sweeps over Ohio State, Michigan State to end the regular season, and Binghamton,  Bowling Green, in the First and Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. Winning the Big Ten Conference, PSU currently hits .310 as a team, ranking third in the country. Led by Big Ten Coach of the Year Russ Rose, PSU also brags the Big Ten Player of the Year in Ariel Scott (3.64 kills per set), All-Big Ten selections Deja McClendon (3.25 kps), Katie Slay (hits .430 and 1.35 blocks per set) and Micha Hancock (11.26 assists per set).

No. 16 seed Kentucky defeated East Tennessee State in the First Round and Ohio State in the Second en route to their second-straight Sweet 16 appearance. The 2011 and 2010 seasons marks the first time since 1987-88 that Kentucky has made it to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Entering the NCAA Regionals with a 22-10 overall record, the Wildcats were also 14-6 in the SEC. Whitney Billings leads the team with 3.00 kills per set and 357 kills on the season. Ashley Frazier, however, is right behind her with 350 kills and averages 2.92 kps. Alexandra Morgan leads the blocking attack with 1.08 per set and has a .351 hitting percentage. Christine Hartmann averages 10.90 assists per set, while Stephanie Klefot holds a 3.92 digs per set ratio.

The Golden Gophers are fortunate enough to have three current members reach their 1,000th kill mark this season, with another approaching it. In the first match of her junior season, Ashley Wittman accomplished the feat against James Madison (8/25) and enters the NCAA Regional with  1,334 kills. Katherine Harms accomplished her 1,000th kill against Indiana (11/24) and now sits at 1,039. Tori Dixon was the recent Gopher to reach the 1,000 mark when she had her 1,000th against Creighton. She stands at 1,003 in her three-year career. Dana Knudsen is the next to hone in on her 1,000th as she is sitting at 993 between her Gopher and Santa Clara career.

Minnesota ranks high nationally in several categories. The Gophers rank fifth nationally in hitting percentage (.301), 11th in kills per set (14.50), 10th in assists per set (13.64) and 10th in aces per set (1.63). Competing in a tough conference, the Gophers rank first in the Big Ten in assists, kills and aces and second in hitting percentage (trailing Penn State). Individually, Tori Dixon ranks second nationally in hitting percentage (.441), as Daly Santana is eighth in aces per set (0.47). Katherine Harms ranks 48th nationally in kills per set (4.10) and 35th in points per set (4.83).

Minnesota has a total of 192 aces this season, surpassing last year's 141 mark. In the both the Northwestern match (10/26) and the Wisconsin match (10/17), the Gophers had 10 aces, a single-match season high. In fact, the Gophers are on pace for their highest ace mark since 202 in 2006. Minnesota had 127 aces in 2007, 123 in 2008, 126 in 2009 and 108 in 2010. On the season, Minnesota ranks 10th in the nation in aces per set (1.63). Daly Santana is eighth in the nation in aps (0.47) with 56 aces (ranks third in the Big Ten), while Katherine Harms has 40 (ranked fifth in the Big Ten), Tori Dixon has 31 aces and Lindsey Lawmaster has 22. Harms established a career-high four aces in the Michigan State (11/9).