Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
The Sports Pavilion brings back unpleasant memories to Iowa State, the Gophers' opponent in a 7 p.m. match Friday in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.
Last year the Cyclones played Creighton in the first round of postseason play at the Sports Pavilion and were upset 3-2.
"After last year's loss in the first round, we learned not to take anything for granted," Iowa State coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said during a news conference on Thursday.. "We had advanced to the Sweet 16 three years in a row. We had gotten used to it a little bit and maybe thought that would just happen for us every year.
"We have to be ready for every match in the NCAA tournament. We are pretty thrilled to be advancing to this point. We know Minnesota is very good, very athletic, very physical. Just a very good team. So we know we have a huge task [Friday] night. But we are excited to be here and we are excited for the challenge."
Iowa State (22-5) is the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA field this year. The Cyclones swept Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Miami (Fla.) by 3-0 scores in the first two rounds last weekend in Ames, Iowa before their home fans.
But Johnson-Lynch seems to know a lot as well about the Gophers, a team that beat them in a match last spring.
"[Ashley] Wittman is a great outside go-to for them," the Cyclones coach said. "[Katherine] Harms seems to be playing pretty well lately. They've got some really nice offensive options. [Tori] Dixon in the middle. Nothing secret about what they do well. Their libero [Jessica Granquist] is very good. A solid all-around team."
Where might the Cyclones have an edge? "We have become known for our blocking defense," Johnson-Lynch said. "Statistically, if you look at our numbers, that is something we take a lot of pride in and do pretty well. We hope we can do that well [Friday] night."
Jamie Straube and Tenisha Matlock, both 6-2 middle blockers, both average one block per set when they play.
As a team, the Cyclones average 2.2 blocks per set, their opponents 1.94 blocks. The Gophers are almost the reverse. They average 1.92 blocks per set, opponents 2.57.
Johnson-Lynch told her players the Gophers seem to be a lot like [Miami of] Florida. "Just a really nice, athletic team that is going to bounce the ball on occasion and be pretty offensive at times," she said. "We talked about maintaining a steady composure all night."
That could be especially important in a hostile atmosphere.
Johnson-Lynch said playing the match at the Sports Pavilion is a huge edge for the Gophers.
"Home-court advantage is a nice thing to have," she said. "We had it last weekend. We all recognize that it is really tough challenge for us [Friday]. The Gophers are pretty good at home just looking at their record."
The Gophers are 10-4 at home this season, 7-5 on the road.
"We have been able to play really well on the road and that is what we are hoping for -- to have another great road match," Johnson-Lynch said. "We have to serve tough against any opponent with a lot of offensive weapons like they have.
" We are going to have to play great defense, pretty relentless defense. We are going to have to do what we do well. We are going to have to win some tight games. It is going to be 22-all, 23-all and we are going to have to handle that pressure and be very aggressive and stay in there until the end and make it a tight game."
The Cyclones, their coach said, are at their best when they get in a groove defensively like they did against Miami.
"We played just great defense, dug a lot of balls, and transitioned quick," Johnson-Lynch said.
The key players for Iowa State are:
* 6-2 outside hitter Jamie Straube. She is hitting .490 in two postseason matches and is averaging .450 kills per set. She also has seven blocks.
* 6-1 right-side hitter Kelsey Petersen. She is hitting .336 this season, only .002 behind Straube
* Outside hitter Rachel Hockaday is serving at a .981 rate, second best in program history
Middle blocker Tori Dixon and outside hitter Ashley Wittman, both Gopher sophomores, were named to the 14-player Mideast all-region volleyball team by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Dixon ranks fourth in the Big Ten in hitting percentage (3.49) and is second on her team in kills (330), points (419) and blocks (103). Wittman leads the Gophers in kills (541) and averages 4.5 per set. She also is third on the team in digs (331) and blocks (58).
Both were all-Big Ten picks this season.
The Gophers play Iowa State at 7 p.m. in the semifinals of the NCAA regional at the Sports Pavilion. Purdue and Florida State meet at 5 p.m. Both matches are on ESPN3.
The regional final will be 8:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.
There are 10 other Big Ten players on the Mideast all-region team:
Illinois: Michelle Bartsch, OH, sr.; Colleen Ward, OH, sr.
Michigan State: Jenilee Rathje, OH, sr.
Nebraska: Gina Mancuso, OH, jr.
Ohio State: Mari Hole, OH, jr.
Penn State: Deja McClendon, OH, so.; Ariel Scott, RS, so.; Katie Slay, MB, so.
Purdue: Tiffany Fisher, MB, sr.; Ariel Turner, OH, jr.
The two non-Big Ten players on the all-region team are both from Northern Illinois, Kristin Hoffman, S, sr., and Lauren Wicinski, OH, so.
Sophomores Ashley Wittman and Tori Dixon of the Gophers volleyball team were named all-Big Ten today
Wittman was one of seven unanimous picks to the 15-player team. She ranked second in the Big Ten with 506 kills, trailing only the conference player of the year, Purdue's Ariel Turner.
Dixon was third in the conference in hitting percentage and was second on the Gophers in kills with 315.
Junior Mia Tabberson was the Gophers' representative on the 12-member Sportsmanship Award team.
Also named to the all-Big Ten team were Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward of Illinois; Jenilee Rathje of Michigan State; Lauren Cook, Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth of Nebraska; Stephanie Holthus of Northwestern; Mari Hole of Ohio State; Deja McClendon, Ariel Scott and Katie Slay of Penn State; and Tiffany Fisher and Turner of Purdue.
Slay was the defensive player of the year, Micha Hancock of Penn State was the freshman of the year, and Dave Shondell of Purdue was the coach of the year.
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