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Gophers volleyball: What you should know about the NCAA tournament No. 2 seed

The Gophers women’s volleyball team hosts NCAA tournament first- and second-round games at the Sports Pavilion this weekend.

If you don’t know much about Gophers volleyball or the sport, this is a team worth getting to know as they begin their postseason journey pursuing the program’s first national championship. The Gophers face North Dakota in the first round at 7 p.m. Friday night. Southern California and Hawaii kick off the tournament at 4:30 p.m.

What you need to know:

No. 2 overall seed
The Gophers earned the program’s highest NCAA tournament seed (No. 2) after finishing the regular season 26-3 overall and 17-3 in the Big Ten. They finished tied for second in the conference standings, but beat first-place Nebraska in the final week of the regular season. Despite Nebraska earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, the Gophers were ranked No. 1 in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches’ Association poll.

Sold out
Tickets for this weekend’s games went on sale Tuesday morning and were sold out by the afternoon, according to the Gophers athletic department. The Sports Pavilion has a capacity of 5,840 and is considered among one of the best venues in the country. The Gophers have ranked in the top 10 in attendance for the past seven years and the community’s support for the sport will be on display Friday night.

Loaded lineup
The Gophers are led by the Big Ten Player of the Year Sarah Wilhite and Setter of the Year Samantha Seliger-Swenson. Four other Gophers standouts also earned conference honors. The team’s roster is mostly built of Minnesota-grown talent. Five of the six Big Ten honors went to local products with Wilhite from Eden Prairie and Seliger-Swenson from Minnetonka.

Learn more about the sport
If you’re watching any of the matches this weekend and you hear the phrase “out of rotation” or “overlapping” or “out of position,” it means a player from the receiving team has moved out of their location/alignment before the ball was served and the other team receives a point. Also, have you wondered why one player wears a different colored jersey? This athlete is the libero, a position utilized as a backcourt defender that is not allowed to move into the front half of the court to attack shots or blocks. However, they can hit from the back half of the court. The libero also doesn’t count toward the number of substitutions a team is allowed and is exempt from the regular player rotation. For these reasons, they are required to be identified by a different colored jersey.

NCAA tournament success
The Gophers have qualified for the NCAA tournament 18 of the last 20 seasons and are consistently one of the top teams in the best women’s volleyball conference in the nation. However, they have never won a national championship and played in only one title game. They missed the postseason for the first time in 15 years in 2014, the third year under coach Hugh McCutcheon, but recovered last season with a Big Ten championship and run to the Final Four. Most of last year’s team returned in 2016 and have the ability to compete for the elusive national title. 

Feel their pain: Frustration mounts among Vikings players, fans after another loss

The Vikings fell to .500, 6-6, on the season Thursday night after losing 17-15 to the Dallas Cowboys. Players and fans are having a tough time digesting the way the game ended and the frustrated fans are becoming more and more unhinged. 

Reaction after the Vikings' two-point defeat and sixth loss in the last seven games ranged from optimistic to critical to disturbing. 

Several Vikings players were outspoken about their disappointment with the officiating after a no-call on the late fourth quarter two-point attempt that could have tied the game. Cowboys defensive tackle Cedric Thornton hit Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford in the helmet, the kind of hit that draws that often draws a penalty, and his pass sailed high all-but sealing the win for Dallas. 

Vikings offensive lineman Brandon Fusco told USA Today "Oh, my gosh! They shouldn’t have missed that. I didn’t realize it was that bad.”

Defensive end Brian Robison acknowledged he might be fined, but "somebody has got to step up and say something."

A review of the play, though, would have shown Viking left tackle T.J, Clemmings moving before the snap and leading to a false-start penalty.

Robison used Twitter in the early morning Friday to further explain his comments to the “people who are bashing me.”

Despite the loss, the Vikings might have shown the rest of the NFL how to slow down the league’s best team.

Fox Sports writer Dieter Kurtenbach wrote the “Cowboys are good — really good — but they’re not invincible. … The Vikings gave the rest of the NFL a blueprint to beat the Cowboys … exposed some major problems with the Cowboys." columnist Jeffri Chadiha wrote "This was a game that required Dallas to do things that haven't been a big part of its season thus far: playing through mistakes, surviving without contributions from key players, dealing with costly penalties in crucial situations. It's easy to think the Cowboys merely stole a victory when an upset seemed quite possible. It's more important to realize that these are the kinds of games they'll be playing in January, so it's best to get accustomed to them in December. 

"Simply put, this was a contest the Cowboys should've lost.”

Bleacher Report’s lead NFL writer Mike Freeman approached it as the “Resilient Cowboys prove they can win any way they have to.” 

Robison wasn’t alone venting on social media after the game. Here is a sampling of the frustration and some optimism:

Vikings receiver Adam Thielen was among the many players that received backlash from fans on social media Thursday night and his wife Caitlin spoke out against the negative comments:

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Timberwolves at New York

    6:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Ohio State at Gophers men's hockey

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Wild at Calgary

    8 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Detroit at Gophers women's basketball

    2 pm on 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Wisconsin

    3:30 pm

  • Timberwolves at Charlotte

    6 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Ohio State at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's basketball vs. Vanderbilt at Sioux Falls, S.D.

    7 pm on 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Wisconsin

    2 pm

  • Wild at Edmonton

    8:30 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • NJIT at Gophers men's basketball

    7 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • San Antonio at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, NBATV, 830-AM

  • Gophers women's basketball at New Mexico

    8 pm on 88.5-FM

  • Wild at Toronto

    6:30 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Toronto

    6 pm on TNT, 830-AM

  • Army at Gophers women's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

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