It had been 13 years since Radford last made a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers made sure the Highlanders didn’t stay very long.
No. 10 Minnesota (28-6) made quick work of the Big South Tournament champions Friday night at the U’s Sports Pavilion with a 3-0 first-round sweep.
The Gophers closed the match with a 25-8 drubbing in the third set, putting an end to the night in just 1 hour and 9 minutes.
“It’s nice to play clean, efficient volleyball,” senior Ashley Wittman said. “And the better we can start at the beginning of the tournament, the more it’s going to help us to keep going.”
Minnesota improved to 19-1 all time in first-round NCAA Tournament games, having never lost one at home. The Gophers now face Colorado (18-13) Saturday at 7 p.m., once again at the Sports Pavilion.
Against Radford, Wittman had seven kills and a team-leading 16 digs, and fellow senior Tori Dixon led the Gophers with 12 kills and 5 blocks. Sophomore Daly Santana had 5 service aces to go with eight kills of her own.
Really, the Gophers just had too much of everything for the overwhelmed Highlanders to keep pace.
“It is Big Ten volleyball,” Radford head coach Marci Jenkins said, at a loss for describing the gap between the two teams.
After a listless opening set — the Gophers were a perfect 12-for-12 on sideouts for a 25-11 win — the Highlanders made a run at Minnesota in the second. Radford matched the Gophers point for point, tying the game at 11-11 off a kill by junior outside hitter Rachel Wiechecki.
But Wittman had an emphatic block on the ensuing rally, and the Gophers regained the lead and smothered any momentum Radford had built. Minnesota won the set 25-19.
“The best thing about it was, you know, we got into a tight situation somewhere in the middle, and I thought our athletes really regained their composure and just got back to playing Gopher volleyball,” Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon said. He was also pleased with his team’s defensive effort — well, sort of. Wiechecki, the Big South’s player of the year, finished with just seven kills, against seven errors. “I’d like more,” McCutcheon said. “Of course, that’s probably the role of a coach: We’re perpetually dissatisfied. But overall, I think our defensive game, both block and back row, has increased over the course of the season.”