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.
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.
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.