30-27,The Minnesota volleyball team (26-10) had its amazing NCAA Tournament run come to an end as it was unable to derail No. 1 USC (34-0), who defeated the Golden Gophers in three games by scores of 30-27, 30-28, 30-20 in the first match of the National Semifinals on Thursday, Dec. 18 at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. Minnesota had its most successful tournament run in school history come to an end in the Final Four, while USC extended its NCAA Division I record-setting win streak to 46 matches.
Senior opposite hitter Cassie Busse (Prior Lake, Minn.) had a double- double with 23 kills and a team-high 12 digs against the No. 1 Women of Troy in her final career match as a Golden Gopher. Busse finished her career with 1,502 career kills, which was sixth on the career list. She also had the fifth-highest single-season kill total in school history at 614.
"Cassie (Busse) and Erin (Lorenzen) have brought so much to the program," said sophomore libero Paula Gentil. "They have set a standard and there is no way we will let the level of what they have set drop down in the future. Everybody is going to come back strong, but we will miss both of them a lot. It is hard to put into words how much Cassie means to us. She is just awesome."
USC opened the first game by scoring five of the first six points to take a 5-1 lead. The Women of Troy widened the gap by scoring six of the next nine points from there to go up 11-4. USC took its biggest lead of the game at 17-9, and matched it again at 19-11. Trisha Bratford (Reseda, Calif.) and Jessica Byrnes (Minnetonka, Minn.) combined on a block to cut it to 19-12. USC committed a pair of attack errors to bring Minnesota within 19-14. However, USC responded with three of the next four points to take a 22-15 lead.
Meredith Nelson (St. Croix, Wis.) and Erin Martin (Ames, Iowa) delivered back-to-back kills to bring the score to 22-17. Cassie Busse (Prior Lake, Minn.) and Nelson combined on a block to cut it to 22-18. USC followed with an attack error, and Busse put down another kill to cut it to 22-20. Martin had a block solo and then a kill to tied the game at 22. USC followed with an attack error to close out an 8-0 Golden Gopher run, which gave Minnesota its first lead at 23- 22. After a timeout, the Women of Troy answered with a 4-0 run that put them back up 26-23. Busse followed with a kill to cut it to 26- 24, but USC scored two of the next three points to go up 28-25. The Women of Troy followed with an attack error and Bratford put down a kill to cut it to 28-27. However, USC scored the last two points to take game one 30-27. Minnesota outhit USC in the first game .152 to .119, but the Women of Troy had 18 kills to the Golden Gophers 13. Busse led the Minnesota attack with nine kills in the game.
Minnesota jumped out to an early 11-10 lead in game two, but USC scored three points in a row to wrestle away the lead to go up 13-11. Busse followed with a kill to cut it to 13-12. After a pair of attack errors by the Women of Troy, Busse riffled a service ace to give Minnesota a 15-13 lead. USC scored the next two points to tie it at 15, but Bratford delivered a kill to put Minnesota back up 16-15. Martin followed with back-to-back kills of her own to put the Golden Gophers up 18-15. USC scored seven of the next 10 points to take a 22- 21 lead.
Busse followed with consecutive kills to give Minnesota a 23-22 lead. USC came right back with consecutive points to recapture the lead at 24-23. The Women of Troy committed an attack error to tie the match at 24. The two teams reached ties at 25, 26 and 27. Busse gave Minnesota the lead at 28-27 with a kill. However, USC rattled off the last three points to take game two 30-28 to go up 2-0 in the match. Game two featured 17 lead changes and nine ties. The Women of Troy outhit the Golden Gophers .320 to .213 in game two. Busse and Martin led the attack in the second game with seven and six kills respectively.
Minnesota stormed out to a 5-0 lead in game three behind two kills and a block solo by Busse. USC cut the lead to 7-4, and proceeded to go on a 9-0 run to go up 13-7. The Women of Troy continued to widen the gap with seven of the next nine points to go up 20-9. The Golden Gophers cut the lead to 24-16, but eight points was as close as they as USC scored six of the last 10 points to claim game three 30-20.
"We lost to a very good USC team tonight, but it does not diminish in our minds at all the accomplishments of this team and how far we have come this season," said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. "USC was just to big for us tonight. They seemed to control all the loose balls at the net. We kept jumping, and we thought we were getting high enough, but they would jump one rung higher on the ladder. I am very proud of the effort we gave. We tried to distract them long enough to steal a game. However, as a championship team does, they were able to make the big plays at then end of the first and second games to keep us from winning either game. I thought not winning game two was the critical turning point of the match."
Martin was the only other Golden Gopher in double-figure kills with 11 on the match. Lindsey Taatjes (Prinsburg, Minn .), Lisa Reinhart (White Bear Lake, Minn.) and Gentil each had 10 digs on the night. Taatjes also had 38 assists for Minnesota.
"Our game plan took a while to come together tonight," said senior opposite hitter Cassie Busse. "We had a good game plan in place. We did a good job of coming back, which shows our determination and the heart we have as a team. We just went out there and had so much fun. We were care free, and I could not be more proud of the way we played."
USC outhit Minnesota .267 to .167. The Women of Troy also outblocked the Golden Gophers by a narrow 9.0 to 7.0 edge. Minnesota held a slight edge in digs at 56 to 54.
"That was a pretty interesting match," said USC Head Coach Mike Haley. "I don't know what quite to say. Minnesota played extremely well. I was proud of our team for making the adjustments we were able to make. I thought we were prepared for Minnesota, but we did not do very well with our rhythm early. Our players did a good job of staying focused and handled Minnesota when they made runs at us so I am proud of them."
The Women of Troy were led by Keao Burdine, who had a double-double with 13 kills and 10 digs on the night. Bibiana Candelas and April Ross finished with 12 and 11 kills respectively. Setter Toni Anderson had 39 assists and six digs for USC.
"We are still happy with the outcome of our season," said Hebert. Our team is still in a celebratory mood. I am very happy with effort we gave, we tip our hats to a very strong USC team and we wish them luck in the tournament."
Gentil finished the season with a Big Ten single-season record 656 digs. Taatjes finished with the third highest single-season assist total with 1,665. She now has two of three highest assist-seasons in school history.
Minnesota set a school record by averaging 17.49 digs per season this year. The Golden Gophers also survived a 0-4 start to record a 26-11 record, and advance to the Final Four for the first time in school history.