All the Gophers volleyball team has to do to earn the chance to play for the national championship is beat super-tall superpower Stanford — for the first time ever.
The Gophers and Stanford faceoff this evening at 6 p.m. (ESPN) at the Final Four in Columbus, Ohio, with the winner advancing to the NCAA championship game on Saturday night.
If the Gophers (29-4) do make the title game, it will mean they finally broke Stanford (25-7). Minnesota suffered a 3-1 loss in August at Stanford in the second match of the season, pushing Stanford’s record against the Gophers to 7-0. One of those seven losses was the 2004 national title match.
The top-ranked Gophers, seeded second in the tournament, are playing in the national semifinal for the fifth time.
The Gophers have lost only one set in the NCAA tournament, sweeping North Dakota, No. 12 Hawaii and No. 8 UCLA and beating No. 18 Missouri 3-1.
Outside hitter Sarah Wilhite is averaging 4.69 kills per set in the tournament while setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson is contributing 12.85 assists per set. The Gophers are 1-3 in the NCAA semifinals.
No. 9 Stanford, the tournament’s sixth seed, tied UCLA for second place in the Pac-12 with a 15-5 record. The Cardinal is one of the tournament’s tallest teams and leads the nation with 3.33 blocks per set. Senior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, a three-time first-team All-America, ranks 13th in the nation in hitting percentage (.410) and seventh in blocks per set (1.50).
In Thursday night’s second semifinal Big Ten champ Nebraska takes on Texas, which beat the Gophers in last year’s semifinal, at 8:30 p.m.