The Golden Gopher volleyball team (20-11) and the University of Minnesota will host one of four NCAA Regionals this weekend at the Sports Pavilion. On Friday, Dec. 9, the NCAA Regional Semifinal between No. 5 seed Purdue and Florida State, will be held a 5 p.m., while No. 4 Iowa State faces the Gophers at 7 p.m. The winner of each match will compete in the Regional Final, Saturday, Dec. 10, at 8:30 p.m. The regional winner will advance to the championship semifinals and final hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio, and San Antonio Sports (Alamodome) on December 15 and 17.
Tickets are 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.
Fans can follow the Gophers a variety of ways through the NCAA Regionals. ESPN 3 will broadcast the Regional Semifinals, while ESPNU will televise the Regional Final live. Minnesota will also have free audio for its match located on gophersports.com.
The Big Ten Conference had the most of any league to make the tournament with eight this season. Of the eight, six made it to the Sweet Sixteen in No. seed 3 Illinois, No. 5 Purdue, No. 8 Penn State, No. 13 Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan. The Big 12 and the Pac 12 had the second-most in the tournament with seven. Of the 16 remaining, three hail from the Big 12 (Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State), two from the Pac-12 (UCU and UCLA), two from the SEC (Florida and Kentucky) and one from the ACC (Florida State), the WAC (Hawaii) and the WCC (Pepperdine).
The Golden Gophers enter the Sweet Sixteen with a 34-16 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament and are 16-1 in tournament matches played at the Sports Pavilion. The 2011 season marks the third consecutive NCAA Regional for Minnesota and ninth showing since 1999. The 2011 season also 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.
Minnesota opened the tournament with a three-set win over North Dakota State, 25-17, 25-21, 26-24. Minnesota was led by senior Hailey Cowles, who had 13 kills and hit .323, while Ariana Filho hit .688 (11-0-16). Also earning double-digit kills was Ashley Wittman, while Tori Dixon had nine kills. Mia Tabberson had a match-high 46 assists and Jessica Granquist had a match-high 19 digs. The Gophers outhit the Bison .323 to .186 in the match, including a .439 clip in the second to go up, 2-0. Overall the Gophers had 53 kills to NDSU's 39 and held narrow margin wins in digs (57-54) and blocks (6.0-4.0).
In the second round, Minnesota rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Washington in five sets by scores of 18-25, 20-25, 25-17, 25-21, 15-11 to advance to the NCAA Regionals. It marked the second time this year the Gophers overcame a 0-2 deficit in a victory. The other rally came when Minnesota won in five sets against Michigan in Ann Arbor on Oct. 7. The Gophers also rallied from 0-2 for the second time in school history in an NCAA Tournament match. The other occasion came on Dec. 4, 1999 when Minnesota rallied to defeated USC in Los Angeles in the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers were led by junior Katherine Harms who had career-highs in kills (29) and digs (24). Sophomore Ashley Wittman also had 23 kills on the night, including 18 in the final three sets and six in the fifth set. Senior Hailey Cowles finished with 11 kills and 21 digs, and had the final three kills of the match in the fifth set to close it out. Mia Tabberson entered the match in the third set, and finished with 45 assists and two service aces, while Jessica Granquist finished with 24 digs.
Against Washington last Saturday, Katherine Harms had career-highs in kills (29) and digs (24) in the match. Her 29 kills were the most by a Gopher in an NCAA Tournament match since Erin Martin had 31 against Georgia Tech on Dec. 10, 2004. Harms' previous best was 19, which also coincidentally came in Minnesota's last match where the Gophers trailed 2-0. This season alone, Harms has had career-highs in three matches. She had 17 against Texas (9/2), Michigan (10/7) and last weekend. Her 24 digs bettered her previous best of 14 when she accomplished it against Creighton during the 2010 NCAA second round.
Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman is 17 kills away from reaching her 1,000th career kill. As a rookie last season, Wittman had 442 kills and has established 541 so far this season. She has had 12 matches where she's had more than 20 kills in a match this year. In 31 matches this season, Wittman has led or tied for the team kill lead in 24. With these numbers coming out of her first two years, only Nicole Branagh had more kills by her sophomore year. Looking at Minnesota's all-time leaders in kills, Branagh had 1,057 kills by her sophomore year (478 as a freshman, 579 as a sophomore), Katrien DeDecker had 991 (501-490), while Andrea Gonzalez had 997 (552-475). Since rally scoring started in 2001, the only player to accomplish that many kills is Wittman. Branagh, DeDecker and Gonzalez all had kills during sideout scoring.
Holding the tournament's overall No. 4 seed, Iowa State enters the Sweet Sixteen with a 24-5 overall record an a 13-3 Big 12 Conference mark. Iowa State is making it's fourth trip to the Sweet Sixteen in the last five years. The Cyclones only lost five times this season to Northern Iowa (9/13), Nebraska (9/17), Texas (10/2) and (10/28) and Texas A & M (11/28). Iowa State cruised in the first two rounds with a 3-0 win over Milwaukee (25-19, 25-23, 25-14) and No. 25 Miami (25-21, 25-10, 25-14). The Cyclones are 14-3 in three-set matches and 3-1 in five sets this season. Iowa State has six players that have triple digit kill marks. Carly Jenson leads the Cyclones in kills (392) and kills per set (3.88) and second on the team in digs (328). Jamie Straube is second with 263 kills and averages 2.63 kps, while Tenisha Matlock is third with 184 kills and leads the team in blocks (100). Alison Landwehr is their starter setter, who has 1174 assists, while Kristen Hahn is their libero with 585 digs and averages 5.49 digs per set.
Florida State enters the Sweet Sixteen with a 26-6 overall record and an 18-2 mark in the ACC. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Florida State knocked off Albany, 3-0, while in the second round defeated Cincinnati, 3-2 last Saturday. Seminoles' Chris Poole was named the ACC Coach of the Year as his team won the conference title, dropping only to Duke and Miami this season. Ashley Neff, Jekaterina Stepanova and Visnja Djurdjevic were named All-ACC. Neff averages 1.61 blocks per set and has 189 kills to average 1.64 kps. On the outside, Stepanova leads the team with 379 kills (3.27 kps), while Djurdjevic is second with 322 kills (2.88 kps). Setters Duygu Duzceler and Sarah Wickstrom have 717 assists and 592 respectively. Katie Mosher is the Seminoles' libero and has 536 digs, averaging 4.58 per set. FSU has seven players outside of the United States and have representatives from six countries (Brazil, Latvia, New Zealand Serbia, Turkey, and the U.S.).
Purdue enters the match with a 29-4 overall record and a 16-4 record in the Big Ten Conference. The Boilermakers are making their 14th NCAA tournament appearance and seventh in their last eight seasons. Purdue has now made it to its fifth Sweet Sixteen since 2005. The Boilermakers defeated Morehead State, 3-0 in the first round and Louisville in the second round. Tied for second in the conference, Purdue had multiple award winners as Dave Shondell was named Big Ten Coach of the Year and Ariel Turner was named Big Ten Player of the Year. Turner beat only Minnesota's Ashley Wittman with the most kills by a Big Ten player as she averages 4.92 kills per set and 2.76 digs per set. Tiffany Fisher was also an All-Big Ten selection with a .391 hitting percentage, a 2.45 kills per set and a 1.00 blocks per set. Also making it on the All-Freshman Team was Kierra Jones, who has 146 kills this season. Catherine Rebarchak also has 200 kills on the season, averaging 1.74 per set.