Carly Kan was in civilian clothes that included a warm jacket. She was sitting in a second row at the Sports Pavilion and talking to her father, Darryl, who was at work back home in Honolulu.
Kan’s mother, Linda, was sitting to one side, and Carly’s boyfriend was on the other. He was responsible for the bouquet of flowers Carly was holding.
The collegiate career of Kan as a star volleyball player for Missouri had come to an end 20 minutes earlier, in a cascade of smashes from a trio of Gophers senior stars in the fourth set of the teams’ round of 16 match Friday night.
Seniors Sarah Wilhite and Paige Tapp are listed at 6-foot-1; Paige’s twin, Hannah, is 6-2. Against this, Missouri sent Kan, who has to be among the best 5-9 hitters in collegiate volleyball.
“The hard part of being shorter isn’t the hitting; it’s the blocking,” Kan said. “And Minnesota can hit from so many places. It has so many outstanding players.”
Kan had brought Missouri back into the match with seven kills in a second set that the Tigers took 25-21. That made the score even at a set apiece when the teams went to the 10-minute intermission.
The Gophers came out blasting in the third set and took a 9-3 lead. Kan led Missouri back to within 18-15. The Gophers steadied for a 25-19 victory and a 2-1 lead.
“This is a great place to play for the Gophers, with the sellout crowds and the noise,” Kan said. “There were times when I thought we were feeling a little lost in our play, with the crowd cheering so loud and Minnesota moving the ball around.”
The grind of taking on the taller, attacking Gophers finally drained the nonstop Kan in the decisive fourth set. Her last gasps were a kill and then serving for a point to cut the Gophers’ lead to 13-11.
“We still had a chance,” she said.
And then Missouri didn’t.
Samantha Seliger-Swenson had a kill to make it 14-11, and then Triple S started doing her magic as the setter, as the quarterback to the No. 2- ranked team in the country.
The next 10 points included three kills from Wilhite and two apiece from the Tapps. That got the score to 24-14 and then here came Wilhite again, the Big Ten Player of the Year, to deliver the final point.
A reasonably competitive match for 3½ sets finished as a blowout. Kan had two attack errors to contribute to those final 11 points. Excellence at 5-9 could only do so much against the Gophers.
“I played with both the Tapp twins, in China and another tour,” Kan said. “I know how good they are.”
This was with U.S. college all-star teams. Kan also had firsthand knowledge of the excellence of Seliger-Swenson, the sophomore setter.
“We played against each other with our club teams,” Kan said. “She’s really good, in all areas.”
Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon paid tribute to Kan in the same way — talking about her all-around game. The undersized hitter had 20 kills and 10 digs and served efficiently, and in the end, it was the end of her career.
“It’s bittersweet, in the sense it’s over, but I know we gave it our best against a great team,” Kan said. “The match being here … that made it more difficult for us.”
The NCAA changed its format this year, switching from prearranged sites for regionals to placing the matches at the site of the teams with the best seed still alive for the round of 16.
It’s unlikely a neutral site would have helped Missouri in the first or fourth sets Friday, not the way the Gophers played at the start or end.
Seliger-Swenson and her teammates had the ball in lightning motion throughout the first set. And in the fourth, Wilhite was monstrous, with plenty of help.
Tigers coach Wayne Kreklow talked about the speed of the Gophers’ “transition” game, and then said: “Their setter does quite a job running it. They have a lot of options, and she’s able to find the right person at the right time.”
Seliger-Swenson offered nothing but praise for teammates after providing 52 of the Gophers’ 62 assists. Asked why her voice was so hoarse, she said: “Yelling.”
Samantha was joined in that throat stress by the crowd in the Pavilion. And those 5,000-plus will get one more chance Saturday night in the regional final to see if they can get another opponent feeling “a little lost” and assist the Gophers to a second consecutive Final Four.