U volleyball: Gee, but it's great to be back home

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 2, 2011 - 6:53 AM

U has the chance to reach the Final Four without leaving its friendly confines.


Tori Dixon, slugging the ball over the net against North Dakota State last year, is among those central to the Gophers’ tournament hopes. The Gophers play the Bison in first-round action Friday night at the Sports Pavilion.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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As the Gophers volleyball team played 15 of its first 21 matches this season on the road, players couldn't help feeling like there was no place like home. It turns out staying home in December is their specific reward for performing well enough during all those early travels.

Minnesota has the somewhat rare opportunity to reach the NCAA Final Four without leaving its home arena. The U was already slated to host next weekend's regional -- regardless of whether the Gophers played in it or not -- and by earning one of the top 16 overall seeds (No. 13) in the 64-team NCAA field, the squad also is playing host to the first and second rounds of the tournament starting Friday at the U Sports Pavilion.

Gophers interim head coach Laura Bush said the team is treating each weekend as its own miniature tournament, but the opportunity is clear: Win four consecutive home matches and the Gophers will be in the Final Four. That's in San Antonio, but by then Minnesota wouldn't mind being on the road again.

"Our whole team is excited," sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman said. "We did spend a lot of the first part of our season traveling. It wears and tears on your body, and it's tiring. It's nice to be home. We get our own beds, our own routines and our home crowd."

Winning, of course, is not guaranteed. The Gophers (18-11) face North Dakota State (26-8) on Friday in a rematch of last year's first-round matchup, which was also at the Sports Pavilion. The winner will face either Western Michigan or Washington.

The Gophers' season has been a mixed bag of highs and lows -- or as Bush puts it, "moments of brilliance and moments of not-so-much-brilliant." Among the highlights: back-to-back sweeps in early September over Texas, the No. 1 overall NCAA tournament seed, and another sweep at Illinois, the No. 3 overall seed. Sprinkled in, though, were inconsistent performances -- including a three-set loss at Northwestern, a non-tournament team, one day before winning at Illinois.

"I still don't think we've peaked yet," Bush said. "When we are consistent back-to-back, we are a very formidable team."

Wittman and middle blocker Tori Dixon -- both of whom were named first-team All-Big Ten players -- said the Gophers found more consistency near the end of the season. Junior Mia Tabberson has reclaimed the role of setter after splitting time throughout the year with freshman Kellie McNeil.

"Mia has had experience already," Wittman said. "It's hard for a freshman setter to come in and ... run a smooth offense."

If there's any time to be running smoothly, this is it.

"We played really well our last few matches," Dixon said. "We're definitely going off playing well, and that will hopefully give us a boost in the tournament."

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New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Toronto 104 FINAL
Indiana 91
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Detroit 95
Milwaukee 109 FINAL
Miami 102
Memphis 109 FINAL
Dallas 90
Chicago 31 2nd Qtr 10:14
Golden State 37
Washington 24 2nd Qtr 10:51
LA Lakers 33
NY Rangers 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 4
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 4
Winnipeg 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Washington 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Carolina 4
Dallas 2 FINAL
Montreal 3
Detroit 5 FINAL
Florida 4
Colorado 3 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 4
Buffalo 1 3rd Prd 9:23
Calgary 2
Minnesota 1 3rd Prd
Edmonton 1
Anaheim 1 2nd Prd 17:25
Vancouver 0
Ball State 47 FINAL
Akron 59
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Bowling Green 56
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Ohio 40 FINAL
Eastern Mich 76
Xavier 66 FINAL
Georgetown 53
Vanderbilt 62 FINAL
Georgia 70
West Virginia 65 FINAL
Kansas State 59
Central Mich 53 FINAL
Kent State 63
Saint Josephs 48 FINAL
La Salle 53
Nebraska 44 FINAL
Michigan 58
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Toledo 70
Tulsa 62 FINAL
Tulane 55
George Washington 48 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 72
Pittsburgh 67 FINAL
Virginia Tech 70
Indiana State 78 FINAL
Evansville 89
Tabor College 53 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Florida 52 FINAL
Alabama 50
Tennessee 64 FINAL
Arkansas 69
Texas A&M 67 2nd Half 3:06
Auburn 55
Baylor 53 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
DePaul 0 Postponed
Providence 0
Michigan State 0 Postponed
Rutgers 0
Wyoming 44 FINAL
Utah State 56
Fresno State 47 FINAL
San Diego St 58
UNLV 38 2nd Half 15:41
Nevada 37
SD Christian 35 2nd Half 14:39
CS-Bakersfield 46
Colorado State 0 1st Half 18:12
Boise State 5
Temple 71 FINAL
UCF 54
Campbell 42 FINAL
Presbyterian 51
Coastal Carolina 65 FINAL
High Point 73
Gardner-Webb 49 FINAL
Radford 59
UNC-Asheville 58 FINAL
Liberty 62
Winthrop 63 FINAL
Longwood 62
Columbia International 33 FINAL
Charleston Southern 74
Tulane 63 FINAL
Houston 46
(3) Baylor 89 FINAL
TCU 67
Navy 49 FINAL
American Univ 59
Valparaiso 42 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 60
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