This is a sweet and rare moment for the University of Minnesota. The Gophers’ traditional excellence in lower-revenue sports is this month pairing with successes in larger-revenue sports.
“The Rouser” can no longer be mistaken for a dirge.
The Gophers volleyball team, despite Thursday’s semifinal loss to Stanford, qualified for its third Final Four in five seasons, a remarkable accomplishment considering this did not appear to be one of coach Hugh McCutcheon’s strongest teams.
McCutcheon, a New Zealander who won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. men’s Olympic team and a silver with the women’s team, has bolstered his reputation as one of the world’s best volleyball coaches while discovering the joys of black ice.
The women’s basketball team led by Lindsay Whalen has won nine consecutive games since a loss in the season opener. That includes a victory over a rebuilding Notre Dame team that usually ranks among the country’s best. Whalen is 30-12 as a head coach.
P.J. Fleck is taking the football team to the Outback Bowl following its first 10-victory season since 2003, in an attempt to win 11 games for the first time since 1904. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is a consensus All-America.
Facing Auburn is daunting, but the last time the Gophers faced an SEC power in a bowl game, the Gophers beat Alabama 20-16 in the 2004 Music City Bowl, while punishing the Tide. Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney rushed 66 times for 292 yards in that game, while Alabama rushed 21 times for 21 yards.
Gopher men’s basketball on Sunday beat No. 3 Ohio State at The Barn for the program’s first victory over a top-five team since 2013. Richard Pitino has made the NCAA tournament in two of the past three years. In March, he beat Louisville 86-76 in the NCAA tournament. Louisville just replaced Ohio State at No. 3 in the AP poll.
Pitino has missed on entire recruiting classes of quality Minnesota athletes, but he shouldn’t be judged by his team’s 5-5 record. Pitino had the guts to take on a difficult nonconference schedule that included a loss to Utah. On Wednesday, Utah beat Kentucky.
“Minnesota is a place where you can chase your dreams,” coach Jamie Trachsel said at the time.
Baseball remains in good hands with John Anderson, another Gophers lifer. Gophers wrestling is ranked 15th in the nation.
Last year, Minnesota was the only school from a Power Five conference to post winning records in every team sport. During the 2018-19 seasons, Gophers sports finished behind only Michigan in average finish of team sports in the Big Ten Conference.
This is a good time to be a Minnesota alum, fan or coach. Whalen is all three.
“As an alum and a fan of all of our sports, this has been amazing to watch,” Whalen said. “What P.J. Fleck was able to do was really awesome. I’ve been watching Gopher football since I was 5. To get “College GameDay” to our campus and to go to this bowl game … it is amazing.
“Then to be on campus and to be even more invested, this has really been a fun year. I’ve gotten to know Hugh really well. He’s a great coach.”
Whalen went on to praise Pitino and the softball and hockey teams, among others.
College sports provide a simple hierarchy. The sports are dominated by coaches, who are responsible for everything from game plans to recruiting, and the athletic director is in charge of all the coaches.
Gophers AD Mark Coyle, who hired Fleck and Whalen among others, is in line for some praise.
“He should get a ton of it,” Whalen said. “He put everybody in a great position. He’s given us what we need. We know he wants us to take this whole program and university and athletic department to the next level.
“He’s very competitive. You can tell when you talk to him. He wants to win and be great and do things the right way.”