Champions The 10th-ranked University of Minnesota (32-5) volleyball team advanced to the Regionals of the NCAA Championships on Friday night defeating No. 17 Georgia Tech (33-6) 3-1 with scores of 30-28, 31-29, 26-30 and 30-28. This is the third time in four years the Golden Gophers will play in the "Sweet 16".
In game one, Minnesota opened with a 6-2 lead, but then squandered a seven-point lead as Georgia Tech tied the score at 28, forcing a Gopher timeout. After a service error gave the Golden Gophers a 29-28 point lead, Lindsey Vander Well (Prinsburg, Minn.) and Trisha Bratford (Reseda, Calif.) scored a double block to seal the victory. Jessica Byrnes (Minnetonka, Minn.) tallied seven kills, while hitting an impressive .667 in the game. Cassie Busse (Prior Lake, Minn.) also recorded two service aces.
The Gophers took a 2-0 advantage, winning a dramatic game two with a score of 31-29. Both teams battled to a 19-19 impasse, but two consecutive kills by Bratford forced the Yellow Jackets to call a timeout. Georgia Tech regrouped to reach game point at 29-27. After a 'Jacket service error, Bratford scored a decisive kill and solo block to give Minnesota a 30-29 lead. Busse pounded a service ace to seal the win. Bratford collected eight kills, and Busse added six. Both teams had solid hitting percentages, with Minnesota at .459 and Georgia Tech at .400.
Georgia Tech fought back to take game three. The Yellow Jackets took an early 11-5 lead, but the Gophers clawed to tie at 23. Georgia Tech scored eight of the final 13 points to close to game. Lauren Sauer gathered five kills, as the 'Jackets held Minnesota to a mere .065 hitting mark.
Minnesota took game four 30-28 to seal the victory. With the scored tied at 17, Georgia Tech went on an 8-5 scoring run to lead 25-22. The Gophers tied the score at 26 as Bratford pounded her 25th kill. The Yellow Jackets called a timeout at match point. After the break, Bratford fittingly finished the game with her career-high 26th kill, the second highest kill total in Minnesota NCAA Tournament history (Nicole Branaugh, 31) and the highest by Golden Gopher player this season.
Other top Golden Gopher performers included Busse with 18 kills and 10 digs, Erin Martin (Ames, Iowa) with 16 kills, Byrnes with 12 kills, Paula Gentil (Fortaleaza Ceara, Brazil) with 23 digs and Vander Well with 66 assists. Busse recorded her 10th double-double of the season. Lisa Axel (Buffalo, Minn.) and Lisa Reinhart (White Bear Lake, Minn.) also had 14 and 11 digs respectively.
Lynnette Moster paced Georgia Tech with 24 kills, 10 digs and four service aces. Sauer chipped in 18 kills for the match.
Minnesota will next play No. 16 Arizona in the NCAA Regional Semifinals. The Golden Gophers would play that match on Thursday, Dec. 12 at Stanford, Calif., if Stanford advances out of its bracket. Should Stanford fail to advance, Minnesota would host the Regional Semifinals and Finals on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 14-15. Stay tuned to gophersports.com for more information.