o The Minnesota volleyball team (33-4) advanced to their first national championship in school history knocking off two-time defending national champion USC (23-6) in the National Semifinals in four games by scores of 30-25, 29-31, 30-26, 30-20 at the Long Beach Convention Center at Long Beach, Calif. Minnesota's victory snapped a 16-match NCAA Tournament by the Women of Troy.
"First of all we beat a great team tonight in USC," said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. "I think the match came down serving and passing, which I thought we did a little better then USC. Our associate head coach David Boos drew up a great blocking scheme for us tonight and our players executed it to perfection. This is a great win for our program and we are looking forward to playing Stanford in the national championship on Saturday."
Minnesota will take on Stanford in the national championship on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 3 p.m. (CT). That match will be televised live on ESPN 2.
The Golden Gopher attack was led by Erin Martin (Ames, Iowa) who had 18 kills and six blocks on the night. Meredith Nelson (St. Croix Falls, Wis.) had 13 kills and six blocks, while Trisha Bratford (Reseda, Calif.) had 13 kills and three blocks.
"I knew we had a lot more heart to give after the first three games," said Martin. "I think we knew we could play better, even after we won game three, and we stepped and showed a lot of heart in game four."
Senior setter Lindsey Taatjes (Prinsburg, Minn.) had nine kills, 20 assists, 18 digs and seven blocks (three solo blocks). Junior libero Paula Gentil (Forteleza Ceara, Brazil) had a Final Four record 33 digs for the match. Marci Peniata (Plymouth, Minn.) also had a career- high 17 digs, while Kelly Bowman (Maple Grove, Minn.) had 38 assists and 14 digs.
"We were so close to beating USC earlier in the season," said Taatjes. "I think with it being earlier in the season both teams were a work in progress. I know on our end our offense was not quite clicking, but it is a lot better right now."
Jessy Jones (Naperville, Ill.) had nine kills and tied a team-high with seven blocks in her first career start.
"Jessy is a great blocker and fierce competitor," said Hebert. "She played a fabulous match and showed great composure for playing on such a big national stage."
USC scored the first point of the first game to go up 1-0, but Lindsey Taatjes (Prinsburg, Minn.) delivered three consecutive kills to put Minnesota up 3-1. The Golden Gophers score four of the next six points to go up 7-3. Taatjes and Marci Peniata (Plymouth, Minn.) helped spark Minnesota with two service aces. USC responded with four of the next five points to cut the lead to 8-7.
The Golden Gophers scored three of the next four points to take an 11- 8 lead over the Women of Troy. USC came right back with three of the next four points to cut it back to 12-11. Nelson and Taatjes combined on a block to make it 13-11, and Martin delivered consecutive kills to put Minnesota ahead 15-11.
USC scored four of the next six points to cut the lead to 17-15. The Women of Troy cut it down to 19-18, but Taatjes and Jessy Jones (Naperville, Ill.) combined on a block to make it 20-18. USC ran off the next two points to tie the score at 20. Minnesota scored three of the next four points to push the lead back up to 23-21. USC came right back with the next two points to tie the score at 23. The two teams exchanged the next two points to tie it 24.
Nelson delivered a kill to push it out to 25-24, and Jones and Bratford followed up with consecutive kills to push it to 27-24 to force a USC timeout. The Women of Troy scored out of the timeout to cut it to 27-25. Minnesota answered right back with back-to-back kills to push it to game point at 29-25. Kelly Bowman (Maple Grove, Minn.) finished the game off for a Minnesota with a service ace on a jump serve to the give the Golden Gophers game one 30-25.
Minnesota outhit USC .295 to .268 in game one, and had 20 kills to the Women of Troy's 15. Bratford led way with six kills, while Martin had five in the game.
The Golden Gophers jumped out to a 5-0 lead in game one, paced by Martin and Jones who combined on blocks for three of the five points. Out of a timeout, USC score three straight points to cut the lead to 5-3. Minnesota came back with three of the next four points to take an 8-4 lead. The Golden Gophers moved out to an 11-6 lead, but USC answered with consecutive points to cut it to 11-8.
Minnesota scored five of the next seven points to move out to a 16-10 lead. USC responded with four of the next five points to cut the lead to 17-14. The Women of Troy cut the lead down to 20-18, but Taatjes and Martin answered with consecutive kills to push the lead back out to 22-18 to force USC to take a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Women of Troy scored to cut it to 22-19, but Taatjes put down a kill to push it back out to 23-19. USC came back with four of the next five points to cut the lead to 24-23, which forced Minnesota to take a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Women of Troy tied the score at 24. Martin answered with a kill to make it 25- 24, but USC's Bibiana Candelas came back with a kill of her own to tie it at 25. The two teams exchanged the next four point to tie the game at 27, but Alicia Robinson put down a kill to give USC its first lead of the match at 28-27. Jones answered with a kill for Minnesota to tie it at 28.
USC moved it to game point at 29-28, but Martin delivered a kill to tie it at 29. The Women of Troy moved it to game point at 30-29 when Minnesota was called for having its block in the net. Keao Burdine delivered a kill for USC to give them game two at 31-29 to even the match at one game apiece.
Minnesota outhit USC in game two .104 to .179, but USC had 20 kills to the Golden Gophers' 17. Minnesota also outblocked USC 6.0-to-3.0 in the game. Martin led the way with five kills in the game, while Jones and Taatjes each had four.
The two teams exchanged the first four points of game three to be tied at 2-2, but Minnesota went on a 5-0 run to take a 7-2 lead to force a USC timeout. Out of the timeout, the Women of Troy scored five of the next six points to cut the lead down to 8-7. The Golden Gophers moved back ahead 10-8, but USC scored five of the next six points to move ahead 13-11. The Women of Troy pushed the lead to 15- 12 with two of the next three points to force a Minnesota timeout.
Out of the timeout, Taatjes had a solo-block to cut the lead to 15- 13. The Golden Gophers scored the next point to cut it to 15-14. However, USC scored four of the next five points to take a 19-15 lead. Minnesota came back with four of the next six points to cut the lead to 21-19. USC pushed the lead to 24-21, but had service error that made it 24-22. Nelson and Bratford combined on a block to cut it to 24-23. Bowman followed with a kill to tie it 24, which forced USC to call a timeout.
Out of the timeout Marci Peniata's serve set up an over pass, that Nelson put down for a kill to give Minnesota a 25-24 lead. Keao Burdine put down a kill to tie the game at 25. Nelson came back with a kill to put the Golden Gophers ahead 26-25, but USC tied it again at 26. The Women of Troy committed a service error to give Minnesota a 27-26 lead. Bratford followed with a left-handed kill to five the Golden Gophers a 28-26 lead. It looked as if USC was going to get the next point, but Peniata came up with an amazing dig to keep the rally alive and Taatjes and Jones combined a block to make it game point at 29-26. Bratford and Jones combined on a block to give Minnesota game three 30-26, as the Golden Gophers took a 2-1 lead in the match.
Minnesota outhit USC .161 to .100 in game three, but the Women of Troy had 18 kills to 14 for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota outblocked USC 5.0-to-0.0 in the game. Nelson led the way with five kills in the game, while Gentil had nine digs.
The Golden Gophers jumped out to an 8-3 lead, but USC score consecutive points to cut it to 8-5. The score moved to 10-7, before Jones put down consecutive kills to give Minnesota a 12-7 lead to force a USC timeout. Out of the timeout, Minnesota scored two straight point to make it 14-7. The Women of Troy cut it to 16-10, but Nelson put down a kill and then combined on a block with Martin to give Minnesota a 18-10 lead to force USC to call a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Women of Troy had an over pass on a Taatjes serve that Martin put down for a kill to make it 19-10. USC came back with consecutive points to make it 19-12.
Minnesota scored the next point to move ahead 20-12, but the Women of Troy answered with three of the next four to cut it to 21-15. USC followed with an attack error, and Taatjes had block solo to put Minnesota ahead 23-15. After the Women of Troy cut it to 23-16, the Golden Gophers capitalized a couple of USC attack errors to go up 25- 16. The Women of Troy were in the net on the next play, and Martin followed with a kill to cap off a 4-0 run that gave Minnesota a 27-16 lead. USC scored three straight points to cut it to 27-19 to force a Golden Gopher timeout.
Out of the timeout, Taatjes put down a kill to give Minnesota a 28-19 lead. USC cut the score to 28-20, but Peniata gave the Golden Gophers match point at 29-20 with push shot into the back left-corner of the court. USC followed with an attack error that gave Minnesota the match sending it to the first national championship in program history.
"We gave the best effort we could, but it was not good enough" said USC Head Coach Mick Haley. "I am very proud of our effort. I think the girls benefited greatly from accepting the challenge to go for a third national championship. It was a great ride."
Minnesota limited USC to a season-low .132 hitting percentage. The Golden Gophers hit .214 on the night. Minnesota also outblocked the Women of Troy 17.0-to-5.0 for the match. USC had 68 kills to 65 for Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers outdug the Women of Troy 98 to 92. Minnesota also forced USC into 38 errors, while committing 23 on the night.
"We are not an overly big team, but what we do have is a talented group of blockers," said Hebert. "We have become a very disciplined blocking team this season. Lindsey and Erin are two of our better one- on-one blockers."
With the victory, the Golden Gophers set a school-record for wins in the NCAA ERA with 33.
Individually, Gentil became the first player in NCAA Division I history to record 900 digs in a season with 909. Martin moved to second on the single-season kill list with 682 on the season.
Minnesota becomes the first Big Ten team to advance to the National Championship since Wisconsin did so in 2000. The Golden Gophers are only the third Big Ten team to advance to a national championship, joining Wisconsin and Penn State.